Vincent Namatjira, the great-grandson of the famed Indigenous painter Albert Namatjira, has won this year’s $100,000 Ramsay Art Prize in Adelaide.
Namatjira works from a studio at the Iwantja Arts centre in the remote community of Indulkana in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands in the far northwest of South Australia.
A panel of art experts unanimously awarded him the prize for his painting Close Contact – a double-sided self-portrait on plywood which also features James Cook.
The artwork is an irreverent look at colonisation and the idea of the heroic portrait.
Namatjira, a finalist in this year’s Archibald Prize, has been making waves for paintings which contain a wry take on politics and history from an Indigenous perspective.
He said Close Contact was inspired by carnival cutouts which invite tourists to place their head into painted scenes for a novelty photo.
“Winning this prize means a lot to me and it will hopefully create more opportunities for me to continue to make more ambitious work and to share my practice with new audiences,” he said.
“I also hope to use my position to create opportunities for other young artists in remote Indigenous communities. I can honestly say that becoming an artist turned my life around and now I want to be a leader and a role-model for the next generation of young artists.”
Guest judge Russell Storer said Namatjira's work stood out for its "wit and complexity".
"Close Contact is a startling self-portrait combining painting and sculpture, and as such represents a major shift in Vincent's practice," he said.
"Cook is represented as a persistent shadow of the artist showing how Indigenous and white Australia are inextricably linked by history, but also in the present.
"Vincent's thumbs-up stance expresses resilience and humour, crucial strategies for resistance and survival."
The artwork will become part of the Art Gallery of South Australia's permanent collection and will be on display with other finalist works until August 25.