Words: Erin Irwin
This year’s Archibald Prize winner is Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands artist and Western Arrernte man Vincent Namatjira, who nabbed the title with his work Stand strong for who you are. This will be the first time since the prize was established in 1921 that Australia’s premier portraiture competition has selected an Aboriginal artist as its winner.
Namatjira says of his win: “I’m so proud to be the winner of the Archibald Prize, and to be the first Aboriginal artist to win is really special. I feel like this is a very important moment in Australian art. It’s an honour to be the first, but I also want to acknowledge all of the Indigenous finalists and Indigenous sitters for the Archibald this year and in past years.”
The portrait is among a record-breaking number of finalist works depicting Indigenous sitters, portraying the artist himself alongside Australian Rules footballer Adam Goodes. Namatjira reconnected with the footballer after viewing the documentary The Final Quarter, which explored Goodes’ final season with the AFL, having felt a heightened connection with Goodes’ experience with racism. Namatjira said that he and Goodes shared “some similar stories and experiences – of disconnection from culture, language and Country, and the constant pressures of being an Aboriginal man in this country. We’ve also both got young daughters and don’t want them to have to go through those same experiences.”
Namatjira has been painting portraits since 2013 and has been an Archibald Prize finalist for four consecutive years. He works at Iwantja Arts in the Indulkana community in South Australia, producing works which are intimately connected with Australian politics. He is the great-grandson of the iconic Australian artist Albert Namatjira. He is represented by This Is No Fantasy in Melbourne.
Art Gallery of NSW director Michael Brand stated that “Vincent’s work shows how much portrait painting still has to say and what strong voices our Indigenous artists have.”
The Wynne Prize 2020 was also awarded to an aboriginal artist, with Hubert Pareroultja landing the title for his painting Tjoritja (West MacDonnell Ranges, NT). The winner of the 2020 Sulman Prize is Marikit Santiago for her work The divine. Santiago is represented by Yavuz, Sydney and Singapore.
Image (top): Vincent Namatjira, Stand strong for who you are. Acrylic on linen, 152 x 198cm. Photo: Mim Sterling. Courtesy: the artist and Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
Image (middle): Hubert Pareroultja, Tjoritja (West MacDonnell Ranges, NT). Acrylic on canvas, 183 x 244cm. Photo: Mim Sterling. Courtesy: the artist and Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
Image (bottom): Marikit Santiago, The divine. Acrylic, oil, pen, pyrography and 18ct gold leaf on ply, 179. x 120.5cm. Photo: Jenni Carter. Courtesy: the artist and Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.