• Gunybi Ganambarr with his award winning artwork Buyku (meaning fish trap). (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Northern Territory artist takes home the top honour at 2018 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards
Rhanna Collins

10 Aug 2018 - 9:46 PM  UPDATED 22 Aug 2018 - 4:57 PM

East Arnhem Land artist Gunybi Ganambarr from Gan Gan in the Northern Territory has taken out the top prize at the 35th annual Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAAs).

Ganambarr’s winning work is titled Buyku (meaning fish trap) and is a hauntingly beautiful etching on three-by-three metre aluminium board.

“The direction and flow of the artwork represent multiple grandfathers from the Dhalwangu clan,” he explains in Yolŋu Matha.

“The arms come together to form a Buyku as seen in the ceremony performed by Yirritja ancestors. The waters from Gadarrpa (Blue Mud Bay) to Gulutji come together to form a family connection.”

The award feels serendipitous in timing, coming just weeks after late July’s 10-year anniversary of the historic Blue Mud Bay decision, arguably one of the most important Aboriginal land rights rulings in Australian history. It saw traditional owners of the Blue Mud Bay area, covering most of the NT coastline, given exclusive access rights to their waters (or intertidal zones).

Ganambarr’s work was selected as the overall winner from more than 300 entries and 66 finalists by the judging panel: director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne Kelly Gellatly, artist and senior member of the Hermannsburg Potters Judith Inkamala and independent curator and art consultant Glenn Iseger-Pilkington.

“There is such a legacy and history of this award… it offers a chance to see the different up and coming trends of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art together,” explains Iseger-Pilkington.

“There is a lot of work coming through around culture revitalization and cultural maintenance; that’s become a really important thing for many areas, particularly from the southern states.

“For audiences it’s a chance to challenge their perception of what Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander life is like in regional and remote communities. Awards like this are critical for artists to have a showcase and platform”.

In addition to Ganambarr’s $50,000 Telstra Art Award prize, the NATSIAAs have a further six categories across multiple art disciplines.

The Telstra General Painting Award was awarded to Yankunytjatjara artist Peter Mungkuri from, Indulkana, SA. The work titled Ngura (Country) is a “drawing about my country”, says Mungkuri. “This land is my home; it’s where it all started. I’ve got good knowledge of horses, stockmen, and the country. These things, everything, is my memory – my knowledge. I like painting my country; I like to paint the memories of my country.”

Western Aranda artist, Kathy Inkamala from Mparntwe (Alice Springs), NT was awarded the Telstra Works on Paper Award. Her work, Mount Gillen, Western MacDonnell Ranges continues the tradition of watercolour painting that began in Ntaria in the mid-1930’s by Inkamala’s great-uncle, Albert Namatjira.

Patrina Liyadurrkitj Mununggurr, from Yirrkala, NT was awarded the Telstra Multimedia Award for her work, which is a multimedia film called Dhunupa‘kum nhuna wanda (Straightening your mind). Mununggurr explained her work “culture is important to us Yolŋu; we use natural clay for dancing and when we go onto someone else’s country we wear it so the spirits don’t attack us, it represents protection.” The film shows the artist painting her forehead with gapan (white clay) which is used for many Yolŋu ceremonial purposes. Mununggurr’s work is breathtakingly beautiful and intimate in its showcase of ceremony and Gumatj culture.

The Telstra Bark Painting Award was awarded to Napuwarri Marawili, from Yilpara, NT after multiple highly-commended shortlisted works in previous years. Marawili’s work Baraltja Dugong Yathikpa represents an ancestral journey in which a hunting party looks to the seas for Dugong. “I used to paint looking after for my country and my Dad taught me about the painting and to look after the community and all the kids, this is why I stay in my homeland, I like to do painting and carving spears and I love to dance on my homelands,” says Marawili. His artistic practice was honed under the guidance of his father, artist Bakulaŋay Marawili.

Previous NATSIAA winner Wukun Wanambi from Yirrkala, NT was awarded the Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D Award for his artwork Destiny. Wukun previously won the Bark painting award in 1998 and has been highly commended in the 3D category for his sculptured larrakitj in 2003. Wanambi’s larger-than-life and cheeky persona matches his multi-faceted entry this year, representing the waters of Gurkawuy River clashing with the tidal waters near Trial Bay. Wukun explained his artwork is “about mullet, this fish rotate between river to river, ocean to ocean looking for their destiny, it’s just like you and I, looking to the internet, looking for our great, great, great grandmother and granddad”.

Matthew Dhamuliya Gurruwiwi, from Warruwi, NT was awarded the Telstra Emerging Artist Award for his work Banumbirr (Morning Star). Banumbirr, or Morning Star Poles, are ceremonial poles of the Galpu clan of Arnhem Land. Handmade using soft local wood, feathers and bush wax, they are traditionally used for sorry business and ceremony. “The Morning star represents Yolŋu people and the spirit of the morning star as the dawn comes you can see Banumbirr,” Gurruwiwi explains. “It reminds us that it is best to be prepared and we cry when the morning star becomes brighter and brighter. We have to follow that star like our ancestors before us. Making Banumbirr has been passed on to me and it is important I keep doing it and keep my culture strong.”

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory director Marcus Schutenko said the quality of this year’s works are the strongest he’s seen. “I expect audiences will feel a significant sense of discovery when they come to the 35th Telstra NATSIAA.”

Telstra NATSIAA finalists’ works will be exhibited at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin from Friday 10 August, after the evening awards ceremony, until Sunday 11 November 2018.

Rhanna Collins is a proud Palawa woman and NITV Project Manager. Follow Rhanna @rhanna_collins


Established in 1984, the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards are Australia’s longest running and most prestigious Indigenous art awards. Telstra has been the Principal Partner of Telstra NATSIAA for 27 years and together with the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, deliver this unique annual event to showcase the best in Indigenous art from across the country. The awards are now firmly established as a key event on Australia’s cultural calendar.

This year unearths new artistic developments in contemporary Indigenous art practices for new and emerging artists, whilst also including major works by some of Australia’s most revered artists.

The Telstra NATSIAA exhibition is now open to the public at MAGNT, 19 Conacher Street, The Gardens, Darwin from 10:00am5:00pm daily.

Read more about the Telstra NATSIAA.