Jimmy Donegan standing proud beside his 2010 Telstra Prize-winning painting, Papa Tjukurpa and Pukara
Posted by Jeremy Eccles | 13.08.10
Gallery: Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
Dates: 13.08.10 : 07.11.10
“I was truly amazed by the strength of the competition this year”, declared one of the two final judges of the 27th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Art Awards at today's announcement of the winners in Darwin. Sylvia Kleinert, an Associate Professor of Art History at both the ANU and Charles Darwin Universities was both a pre-selector of the 96 finalists from more than 300 entries and a judge of the five eventual category winners with artist Djambawa Marawili from Yirrkala in NE Arnhemland.
In the end they chose the wild Anangu painting - Papa Tjukurpa and Pukara by Jimmy Donegan from Ninuku Artists for the Big Telstra – the $40,000 top prize. But you got the feeling that any number of works by Pitjanjatjara and Ngaanyatjarra artists from the APY region might have been contenders for at least the General Painting prize of $4000. The winner reveals two stories - Papa Tjukurpa (Dingo Dreaming) representing his father’s country and Pukara is a water snake Dreaming story from his grandfather’s country. Mr Donegan’s painting therefore requires consummate composition to hold together its multiple layers of story, achieving this by using a diversity of painting styles from intricate skeins of dots to gestural mark-making.
The inaugural New Media Award of $3000 (topped up with another $1000 from the NT Government) surprised by not going to one of the 12 urban Aboriginal artists who dominated the entries for this category. Instead the prolific Mulka Media Centre at Yirrkala encouraged sculptor Nawurapu Wunungmurra to make connections between the spiritual world of his Mokuy figures – spirits of the dead en route between the grave and reincarnation in a local lagoon – and the ceremonial by flashing film from its archive, probably dating from 1924, showing Yolgnu dancing this story in all their magnificent nakedness. Wunungmurra last exhibited his Mokuy at the Moscow Biennale and has cast several sets in bronze.
Another Buku Larrnggay artist took out the 3D Award of $4000. Wukun Wanambi has been a prolific NATSIAA entrant with his swirling schools of fish on bark and paper. Now he's crammed them minutely on to a larrikitj pole – which both achieves something of the abstraction of his colleague Gulumbu Yunupingu's starry vistas as well as suggesting the seed pulsing in a knobbly phallus!
The choice of two Yirrkala winners by a judge from Yirrkala will inevitably raise questions of cultural blinkers. For it's the first time that the NATSIAAs have actually been judged by what might be called a “non-outsider” - a cultural leader from a remote community. But Djambawa Marawili's fellow judge Kleinert actually went so far as to suggest that they only just resisted giving a third prize to the same community – which is clearly a dominant force in Arnhemland today after 8 successive years winning Telstra Prizes. And then the intellectual force of Marawili's own paintings as well as his Chairmanship of the regional ANKAA organisation should satisfy any remaining doubters.
The final two prizes went to such consistent artists that they won them both last year as well! Glen Namundja is from Western Arhnemland and his finely rarrked bark paintings show a sophistication that grows from year to year. While the sheer variety of Badu Islander Dennis Nona's printed works on paper and his combination of technical facility and cultural clarity mean that he's always hard to ignore.
As Sylvia Kleinert put it, “We were told not to worry about the reappearance of previous winners – the idea is simply that the best works each year should win”.
Mokuy by Nawurapu Wunungmurra, winner of the inaugural NATSIAA New Media Award
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