Yirrkala artist Gunybi Ganambarr has taken out the major $50,000 prize at this year’s Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAAs). Ganambarr has an established reputation as a significant artist with local and international recognition, with New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art having just recently acquired his work. He has had solid entries for the last eight years and his winning work ‘Buyku’ (2018) is 300 x 300cm of stunning, shimmering aluminum cut back and engraved into using an angle grinder. The end result is impressive, and no doubt will be acquired by an institution.
Director Marcus Schutenko opened the 2018 NATSIAAs, stating that this year’s edition is “the strongest exhibition of Aboriginal art that we have staged”. It’s the second year that the awards has seen curators Hetti Perkins, Luke Scholles and Clotilde Bullen make a preliminary selection of 66 finalist works from 308 solid entries. This year’s judges – Kelly Gellatly, director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne; Judith Inkamala, artist and senior member of the Hermannsburg Potters; and Glenn Iseger-Pilkingto, independent curator and art consultant – decided on the winning artists for the seven categories.
Iseger-Pilkington was last part of the judging panel six years ago. He thinks that “cultural revitalisation and maintenance is a theme that is clearly apparent in this years’ selected work, particularly the work from the southern parts of Australia. The work demonstrates a real innovation and compulsion to challenge.”
Matthew Dhamuliya Gurruwiwi’s ‘Banumbirr (Morning Star Poles)’ won the Emerging Artist Award. The intricate poles are ceremonial, belonging to the Galpu clan of Arnhem Land, and are traditionally used for funerals. “I was born and raised to be an artist and I see it as my job to carry on the traditional art making for the Galpu clan,” says the artsit. “It’s important I keep doing it and keep my culture strong.”
This year’s Multimedia Award winner, Patrina Liyadurrkitji Mununggurr from Yirrkala, depicts the traditional ceremony of painting Gapan (white-clay) on the face and body. “Yolnu have always used Gapan – past, present and future. Gapan helps us to stand strong,” she says. The resulting video, with the soundtrack composed and played by her father and brother, is compelling; starkly beautiful in the video sequence of the clay being ground, prepared and painted.
All the work at the NATSIAAs is available to buy and presents the opportunity to acquire museum-quality works directly from the gallery and relevant Art Centre. As the NATSIAAs celebrates its 35th year, its position as the leading art prize for Indigenous art continues by 2018’s powerful and compelling exhibition. The show runs at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory until 11 November.
Image: Detail of Gunybi Ganambarr’s NATSIAA winning work ‘Buyku’, 2018. Courtesy: the artist, MAGNT and Buku-Larrnggay Mulka, NT.