• Kate Beynon's portrait of Claudia Chan Shaw, titled Claudia, Spartacus and the robots, is one of the finalists in the 2016 Archibald Prize. (Art Gallery of New South Wales)Source: Art Gallery of New South Wales
The artworks address some of the big issues facing Australian society, including immigration and refugees, racial tensions, mental health and conservation.
Alyssa Braithwaite

8 Jul 2016 - 12:29 PM  UPDATED 8 Jul 2016 - 12:29 PM

Refugee advocates, comedians, fashion designers, chefs, politicians and artists are among the diverse faces depicted in the finalists in the Archibald Prize, Australia's highest-profile portrait prize.

Fifty one artworks have been selected from 830 entries, with portraits of Indigenous model Samantha Harris, comedian Lawrence Leung, fashion designer Claudia Chan Shaw, and actor Barry Humphries among the finalists.

Art Gallery of New South Wales curator Natalie Wilson has spent the last two weeks hanging the portraits ready for the exhibition to open on July 16, and she says the artists and subjects reflect the diversity of Australian society.

"There's a really broad cross-section of Australian society. We do generally have a mixed group of cultures within the Archibald, in terms of both artists and sitters," Wilson tells SBS.

"This year we've got a lot of first-time Archibald finalists - 24 in total - so there are a number of newbies, and in terms of young artists coming through it's a really positive outcome for Australian art.

One of the most significant trends is out of the 51 finalists we actually had gender parity - we had 26 male artists and 25 female artists this year.

"And one of the most significant trends is out of the 51 finalists we actually had gender parity - we had 26 male artists and 25 female artists this year. The numbers for female artists have generally in the past been lower."

While a portrait by Betina Fauvel-Ogden of Masterchef judge George Calombaris has won this year's Packing Room Prize, Wilson says there are fewer well-known entertainers and politicians than usual among this year's sitters.

"There are some really interesting works in terms of looking at the greater issues facing society," Wilson says.

"This year Nick Stathopoulos has produced a wonderful portrait of Deng Adut, who is a refugee from South Sudan and he's now teaching law out at the University of Western Sydney.

"He's an international advocate for refugees and he also delivered this year's Australia Day address."

Another stand-out artwork is called 'The cost' by Abdul Abdullah of former police sergeant Craig Campbell.

"There's an amazing portrait of Craig Campbell, who was one of the policemen who was called to the Cronulla riots back in 2005, and he was the one who was reported in the Daily Telegraph as throwing himself in front of the rioters to protect two train travelers who were being attacked by the mob," Wilson says.

"And so the title of the work is 'The cost', and it's actually about the personal cost Craig Campbell has suffered because of his experience during the Cronulla riots.

"He now suffers post traumatic stress disorder, he has a permanent carer, and Abdul wanted to look at that other side of racial tension in Australia - not just the refugees themselves but also it takes its toll on Australians who are trying to protect the refugees coming to Australia."

Mental health is another issue addressed in a portrait called 'There's no humour in darkness' of actor and comedian Garry McDonald by Kirsty Neilson.

"There's a lovely portrait of Garry McDonald who obviously is a great supporter of beyondblue because his struggle with depression over the years is very well known," Wilson says. 

Check out some of the other finalists in this year's Archibald Prize below. The winner is announced on July 16.