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  • May 13, 2022

Climate Crisis in the Spotlight at Australian Art Prizes

BLAK DOUGLAS, Moby Dickens, 2021, synthetic polymer paint on linen, 300 × 200 cm. Copyright the artist. Photo by Mim Stirling. Courtesy the Art Gallery of New South Wales. 

On May 13, the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) in Sydney announced the winner of the AUD 100,000 (USD 68,800) Archibald Prize: Blak Douglas for his portrait of First Nations artist Karla Dickens standing in muddy flood waters with two buckets in her hands. Titled Moby Dickens (2021), the three-meter-tall portrait captures Dickens in her hometown of Lismore during the devastating floods that wrecked communities in the northern parts of New South Wales. The Archibald Prize winner is decided by the AGNSW’s board of trustees.

The AGNSW also revealed the winner of the AUD 50,000 (USD 34,400) Wynne Prize for landscape painting: Nicholas Harding for Eora (2022) from the greater Sydney region. Wynne Prize finalist Sally Scales was awarded the AUD 10,000 (USD 6,900) Roberts Family Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Prize for her work Wati Tjakura (2022). The AUD 40,000 (USD 27,500) Sir John Sulman Prize 2022 was conferred to Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro for their collaborative mixed-media painting of mythological figures from Japanese kite-designs, Raiko and Shuten-dōji (2022), painted on the fuselage of a Vietnam War-era helicopter.

Sydney-based Douglas has Dhungatti heritage and is the first New South Wales First Nations artist to win the prestigious award in its 101-year history. “I’m making up for lost ground in the failure to memorialize First Nations people,” he said. A five-time finalist running from 2015 to 2022 for portraits of Aboriginal sitters, Douglas explained: “In the past I’ve considered each entry to the Archibald Prize a memorial to that individual and that’s why I only paint First Nations people.”

Harding’s winning landscape painting is a composite panorama of the thinning underbrush around Narrabeen Lakes on Sydney’s northern beaches and Sailors Bay walk on Sydney Harbour. The artist stated that the “leafless fern trunks haunt Eora as warnings for the consequences of land-clearing.”

In the previous week, art handlers who received the submissions for the prestigious prizes had made their own selection. On May 5, the Packing Room Prize was given to Archibald finalist Sydney-based artist Claus Stangl’s 3D-styled portrait of the New Zealand film director, writer, and actor Taika Waititi.

Exhibitions of the prize finalists will be on view at the AGNSW from June 14 through August, and an exhibition of the Archibald finalists will travel to six venues in Victoria and New South Wales over the following ten months.