Winners Announced for Australia’s National Indigenous Arts Awards 2019
By Pamela Wong
On May 27, the Australia Council for the Arts announced the winners of the 2019 National Indigenous Arts Awards (NIAA). In acknowledgement of the centrality of their contributions to Australian culture, the First Nations artists were honored at a ceremony held at the Sydney Opera House.
The Red Ochre Awards for Lifetime Achievement went to two venerable elders: actor and activist Uncle Jack Charles of Boon Wurrung and Dja Dja Wurrung origin, and Pakana shell artist Aunty Lola Greeno, who will each receive AUD 50,000 (USD 35,000) in prize money. Known as “the grandfather of Aboriginal theater in Australia,” Charles co-founded the first Aboriginal theater company, Nindethana Theatre, in 1972. He has presented performances across the globe throughout the six decades of his career. In 2010, he co-wrote Jack Charles v. The Crown, an autobiographical play that centers on the experience of the Stolen Generation—children of Aboriginal descent who were forcibly removed from their homes by the Australian government. Greeno is best known for her traditional shell necklaces, the techniques for which she inherited from her mother. Over the three decades of her career, she has exhibited in multiple museums and institutions across Australia. In 2014, she was presented with the Australian Design Centre’s Living Treasure Master of Australian Craft Award.
Queer artist Jenna Lee, of mixed Larrakia, Wardaman and Karajarri descent, received the AUD 20,000 (USD 14,000) Dreaming Award, which is given to young and emerging artists between the ages of 18 to 26. Based between Brisbane and London, Lee’s works tackle issues of identity and language through media such as painting, printmaking, found objects, and sculpture.
This year’s NIAA ceremony also celebrated artists of Indigenous descent who won 2019 Australia Council Awards, including Rhoda Roberts, founder and artistic director of the international festival The Dreaming; Rachael Maza, artistic director for ILBIJERRI Theatre Company; and choreographer Vicki Van Hout. First Nations recipients of the Australia Council Fellowships were acknowledged as well. Among them are performance artist and multidisciplinary theater director Jacob Boehme, who clinched the Fellowship for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts; conceptualist Vernon Ah Kee, who won the visual arts grant; and writer Ali Cobby Eckerman for literature.
The NIAA ceremony takes place on May 27 every year, coinciding with the anniversary of the 1967 Australian referendum—an amendment that allowed the government to make laws for Aboriginal people and include them in the population census.
Pamela Wong is assistant editor of ArtAsiaPacific.
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