Winners announced for the churchie emerging art prize

Guest judge Rhana Devenport selects winner and three commendations.

Words: Charlotte Middleton

Melbourne-based artist Nina Sanadze has taken out first prize in the Churchie emerging art prize 2021 at the Institute of Modern Art (IMA), judged by Rhana Devenport ONZM, Director of the Art Gallery of South Australia.

The Georgian-born artist pockets a $15,000 non-acquisitive cash prize donated by long-term sponsors of the Churchie, BSPN Architecture, for her 2021 sculptural work titled Apotheosis.

Apotheosis was constructed from the surviving studio archive of prominent Soviet monumental sculptor, Valentin Topuridze (1907-1980), whose public sculptures were torn down in 1989 with the fall of the Soviet regime. Adding another layer of meaning, the installation was inspired by the famed 1871 painting The Apotheosis of War by Vasily Vereshchagin, offering a bleak commentary on human nature.

Of the winning work, judge Rhana Devenport said: “Plaster models, moulds and fragments are rescued and accumulated to form unexpected conversations as limbs, bodies, horses and uniforms entwine in a tumbling concatenation of loss and hope.”

About Sanadze’s practice, Devenport commented: “Drawing on her own familial history in Georgia (former USSR), Nina Sanadze is compelled to respond to some of the great forces of our time—ideology, authority, monuments, conflict and survival—amidst the transient yet insistent fabric of memory, beauty and tenderness. Evocative and dramatic, Nina transforms the once victorious into a tumbling morphic vortex of fragility.”

Of her own work, Sanadze explained: “A sense of urgency to respond to and grapple with a myriad of contemporary socio-political and personal developments drive my creative practice . . . Humour and beauty allow me to address often disturbing concerns, reflecting the complex paradigm of our existence, which is simultaneously sublime and horrific.”

In addition to the Major Prize, a Special Commendation Prize of $5,000, sponsored by Fardoulys Constructions, was awarded to Brisbane-based Kyra Mancktelow. Two further Commendation prizes of $1,000, sponsored by Madison Cleaning Services, were awarded to Sydney-based Riana Head-Toussaint and Brisbane-based Visaya Hoffie.

Mancktelow’s Special Commendation comes after she received the Emerging Artists Award at the 2021 NATSIAA Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.

Devenport said: “Through her beautiful prints, objects, and body adornments, Quandamooka artist Kyra Mancktelow addresses the fraught legacies of a traumatic and complex colonial past.”

Now in its 34th year, the Churchie has become one of Australia’s leading prizes for emerging artists, platforming up-and-coming contemporary artists on a national stage.

The prize winners were selected from 14 finalists whose artworks are now on display in an exhibition at Fortitude Valley’s Institute of Modern Art, curated by artist, writer and curator Grace Herbert in a role sponsored by Armitstead ART Consulting.

The 2021 finalists are: Akil Ahamat, Tiyan Baker, Christopher Bassi, Leon Russell (Cameron) Black, Ohni Blu, Riana Head-Toussaint, Visaya Hoffie, Kait James, Alexa Malizon, Kyra Mancktelow, Ivy Minniecon, Nina Sanadze, Jayanto Tan, and Joanne Wheeler.

Spanning diverse mediums, the finalists were selected from almost 500 original entries, with the exhibition providing a survey of the pressing artistic concerns of early-career artists across Australia during a tumultuous time.

Gallery visitors are invited to cast their votes for the $3,000 People’s Choice Award, sponsored by Madison Cleaning Services, to be announced at the conclusion of the exhibition on 18 December.

This article was originally published 22 October 2021.

Image: Nina Sanadze, Apotheosis, 2021. An original studio archive of Valentin Topuridze, plaster models, moulds and fragments, 160 x 310 x 200cm. Courtesy: the artist and the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane. Photo: Joe Ruckli.


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