Grace Cossington Smith biennial art award honours three artists

This year’s winners made impressive connections.

Words: Erin Irwin

The 2024 Grace Cossington Smith Award, hosted by Abbotsleigh’s Grace Cossington Smith Gallery, has revealed this year’s winners. This biennial award for works in any two-dimensional medium was this year set to the theme of ‘Making Connections’, in honour of the eponymous artist’s practice.

Judged this year by Felicity Fenner, Chair of the City of Sydney Public Art Advisory Panel and Professor of Curating and Cultural Leadership at UNSW, and curator and writer Dr Blair French, the prize had a host of worthy finalists from across Australia to choose from. Each artist took a distinctive approach to the theme, but it was NSW-based artist Virginia Keft that took out top spot, which came with a $15,000 prize.

Keft submitted the work matjam bagin tja (flying fox in the twilight), of which she says that “the painting represents the Australian landscape on Dharawal Country as viewed from my window. The warm twilight glow that envelopes the work and embraces the bluegreen of Geera (Mt Keira) speaks to ideas of ‘home’ in multiple senses”. As a Muruwarri woman who is a guest on Dharawal Country, the artist finds that “home is divided between two places – Dharawal Country where I live, and my grandmother’s ancestral home on Ngemba and Muruwarri Country. In this work, home comes together – the ever-present flying foxes that inhabit the gums below Mt Keira and the suburban backyard are connected to my cultural ways of making and weaving”.

Fenner and French stated that the winning piece “evokes the mood and atmosphere of the suburban fringe where human infrastructure and the natural world intersect. Keft has produced an intricate and complex painting that combines traditional weaving and intricate linework to communicate that fleeting moment of beauty as the colours of the setting sun illuminate the sky”.

Two other artists were also recognised by the award. Nicola Mason was awarded the early career artist award for her The Yellow Studio 1: inside, which draws connections between her life in France, her earlier works, and her artistic process. Artist Shahroud Ghahani was also recognised with the local artist award for her The Goddess of no names, wherein she creates a dialogue between a range of symbols of femininity. The judges commented of this piece that they were “really impressed with how a contemporary feminist narrative has been rendered in a way that incorporates collage and the visual vocabulary of the artist’s Iranian heritage”.

Works by the winners and all the finalists are currently on display at Grace Cossington Smith Gallery until Saturday 24 February.

This article was posted 13 February 2024.

Image: matjam bagin tja (flying fox in the twilight), 2023, synthetic polymer and textiles on canvas, 93 x 123 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Grace Cossington Smith Gallery, Sydney.

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