In its 34th year, some of the country's best, newest art fills the main exhibition space of the Museum and Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT).
Australia's most prestigious Indigenous art award, the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) has returned to the Top End, showcasing 65 finalists from across the nation, and across a multitude of disciplines.
This year, the event welcomes a new generation of artists with the creation of two new categories —the Telstra Emerging Artist Award and the Telstra Multimedia Award. The Multimedia Award allows artists the opportunity to enter innovative works that recognise more technical methods of art including, photography, graphic design, film, audio and other digital content. The Emerging Award (evolved from the Telstra Youth Award) highlights artists of all ages who are in the first few years of their practice to gain exposure and launch their career.
Of the 300 entries, only one can secure the major award, and this year, with the national conversation focused on Aboriginal youth incarceration, 'Kulata Tjuta' has been created and comprised from a variety of media. Only in the Indigenous art space would you find, digital print and kangaroo tendon in the same work.
2017 Telstra Art Award
Kulata Tjuta - Wati kulunypa tjukurpa (Many spears - Young fella story)
Anwar Young, Frank Young and Unrupa Rhonda Dick (Amata, SA)
The multimedia collaborative work tells the story of young Indigenous men from remote communities who are "stuck in a cycle" of reoffending, leading to continuous incarceration and juvenile detention.
'Kulata Tjuta' not only discusses a national issue and highlights in the importance of culture, but sends the powerful message that the "whitefella way of locking people up" is not best practice and that the incarceration of these young men not only affects the individual, but whole families and entire communities.
Spear-making is important to Annangu People (APY Lands) and Frank Young (one of the artists) believes that the key to protecting and nurturing the younger generation is working with their grandfathers and Senior Men to make kulata (spears) the traditional way.
In regards to the artwork, the media suspends these kulata in a cell-like formation. However, rather than incarcerating or locking in the the young man behind them (a photograph, watermarked with cultural designs and language that writes with a sense of urgency), the kulata appear to protect him as he gazes through their thin sticks, looking toward the future.
The judging panel commended the work saying, "Kulata Tjuta is a measured and considered response to an inherently complex and contested subject ... This work is solemn and dignified call to action —to bring Aboriginal men back to culture, language and country."
Frank, one of the Senior Men in the APY Lands, is Anwar's grandfather and Rhonda's uncle. Together the three artists are a strong, proud Annangu family.
In addition to the overall prize, the award consists of six categories across a range of multiple-art disciplines which encourages a diverse range of entries and expressions of work, category winners include:
General Painting Award
Ngura Pilti (The Country is dry)
Matjangka (Nyukana) Norris (Fregon, SA)
True to her style, artist, Mrs Norris is known for using only two to three colours which result in powerful paintings. The predominantly monochrome multifaceted piece on linen demonstrates the deeply felt experience of connection to country. Subtle hues of pinks reveal the underpinning watercourses that trail across the land to give it life.
Ngura Pilti translates as, 'the country is very dry' and Mrs Norris' work captures a land which has seen no rain and now has Ukuri wiya ('no green grass') and Mina wiya ('no water'). The story conveys how the animals, emus, camels and rabbits, all went to the waterhole to look for water, but there was none so they leave.
Mrs Norris, an Annangu woman from the APY Lands, is a prolific artist who has worked in both batik and painting. She has works in the National Gallery of Victoria, as well as other prominent institutions across Australia. Her art features a range of subjects, almost always relating to country and the environment, including the constellations and bushfoods. She is also known for depicting mamu (spirit monsters). Mr Norris is known for dancing the mamu inma in ceremony.
Work on Paper Award
Milkali Kutju (One Blood)
Robert Fielding (Mimili, SA)
Milkali Kutju (One Blood) deploys the compositional conventions of the political poster. Through repetitive hole-punching using hot wire and light filters succinct and bold statement is revealed. The work's unifying and reconciliatory statement moves past difference and appeals to our common humanity.
"My work talks about 'Mikali Kutju'; that we as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are equal and that we have one blood and the anatomy is made of the two kidneys, the liver, the lungs the heart," Fielding states.
"My work is about peace, it's about love, it's about joy, it's about happiness. It's not about hate, it's not about fear, it's not about racism. It's about me, as a person and that I can be a resolution, I have the best of L.O.R.E and L.A.W and that Milkali Kutju is within all of us and that one blood is in the veins of DNA and evolved in everybody and we are equal and there is no superiority."
Robert Fielding's diverse background and his experience of growing up across two very different cultures —Western culture and traditional Aboriginal lore— significantly influences his work. His art (painting and photography) are used as a way to connect to his heritage and family. This is the second Telstra Work on Paper Award Robert has been recipient of, having taken the prize in 2015.
Bark Painting Award
Nyapanyapa Yunupingu (Birritjimi, NT)
Lines is a confident painting by a senior artist. Artist, Nyapanyapa Yunupingu allows the natural pigments to emerge, resulting in an alternation of translucency and opacity of the pigment. She expertly works across the uneven terrain of the bark, interpreting each contour as a directive for her gestural mark-marking.
A skilled and prominent artist, Nypanyapa's works are in major galleries across the country. Her art is known for being highly expressive and unleashes a personal journey. Her work is valued for its spontaneity and texture of her hand. Bangarra Director, Stephen Page created a choreographed production based on Yunupingu's work and titling it, Nypanyapa.
Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D Award (sponsored by Telstra)
Shirley Macnamara (Mt Guide Station, QLD)
Simple in its form, but complex in construction. Myurruga Muulawaddi ('Old Woman') demonstrates artist Shirley Macnamara technical mastery over her medium.
Each blade of spinifex is engineered precisely, manipulated into place and held under tension; seamless and structured. This piece speaks of a mature practice honed by decades of experience and rejects the notion of 'decoration' or 'object'.
"I wanted to do a work that was connected to the anniversary of the Referendum, because I can remember back when we grew up it was very difficult for my grandparents and my parents," Mcnamara says.
"We were never taught to talk lingo traditionally. And Nyurruga Muulawaddi is 'Old Woman' and I battled to retain some of our words and art. When making the work, it reminded me of what my grandmother and the older ladies had done and that when we were always together and they would talk in lingo and sing songs. And anything that they made they'd strengthen spirit and convey from your body into anything you would make —to make that object stronger. Because of the way it was, she [my grandmother] was worried about passing that on— they were worried about what would happen. The work I guess is inspired by the strength and resilience that my grandmother and my older other family members continued to do those things secretly, but they weren't passed on. So I've tried to continue and keep that strong."
Shirley's work draws inspiration from her beloved bush country in far west Queensland. She uses natural materials to create 3D objects to create sculptures that reflect her environment. Shirley has participated in many major exhibitions, including the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Gallery of Modern Art/Queensland Art gallery, and her works have been collected at a number of public institutions including National Gallery of Australia and the Australian War Memorial. She was a finalist in the 2015 NATISAAs.
Telstra Emerging Artist Award
Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country)
Betty Muffler (Indulkana, SA)
Ngangkari Ngura ('healing country') is comprised of complex interconnected forms that unfurl to reveal linear representations of woven objects such as fish traps and nets, which draw on artist Betty Muffler's background as a weaver. For an emerging artist, Muffler demonstrates a significant amount of maturity in the controlled rhythm and pictorial dynamism which has been achieved.
Muffler is an Annangu woman with an "eagle's spirit". She sends her spirit across the desert looking for sick people to heal. Ngangkari ('healing spirit') gives her the ability to see through people, seeing the sickness and measures to heal them. Her spirit is a source of drive and inspiration for her work.
"This is my Country. I am a strong kungka ('woman'). I survived the bombings at Maralinga. We need to heal this country. My painting's shows many of the good places in my Country," Muffler explains.
—With Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.
The 34th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAAs) is on display at the Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory (MAGNT) from 11 August - 26 November 2017. For information, go here