Returning to an in-person event earlier this year, the announcement of this year’s winners of the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (Telstra NATSIAA) on Friday night was a particularly heartening moment for the community and sector alike.
At the forefront of the prestigious awards is the open category award – a career-defining opportunity. This year, the $100,000 category award went to Margaret Rarru Garrawurra, Senior Yolŋu Artist from Laŋarra, Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.
Her winning work, big and bold, but delicately woven Dhomala (Pandanus Sail) 2022 refers to the Makassan sail and thus to historical relationships that have existed between the Yolŋu and the people of present-day Indonesia.
Rarru Garrawurra said: “The Yolŋu people observed the Makassan people weaving their dhomala over time…then they started making them. My father also acquired this skill… I thought about how he made it, my father, and I began to remember. And now I’m doing this one.”
The jury said the work reminded us that Yolŋu “were long-time active and intrepid explorers, participating in international trade long before the arrival of Europeans”.
Rarru Garrawurra was born in Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island) and now lives in her mother’s country Laŋarra (Howard Island) and in Yurrwi / Milingimbi, both off the coast of north-eastern Arnhem Land.
She is a senior artist and master weaver at Milingimbi Art and Culture, who said that although she “speaks little English…she engages with the balanda (European) world through her art practice”.
The center said of their production: “While the technique of dip dyeing has been widespread in Arnhem Land since the arrival of missionaries, the recipe for making black dye from local plants was later developed and refined by Rarru. Yolŋu weavers respect her as an owner mol (black) and although they know the recipe and occasionally use small amounts of it, the use of mol alone in a work is reserved for Rarru and those to whom she gives permission.’
Rarru Garrawurra said of today’s win: “I was with my sisters when I found out about the win. We were very happy. It makes us proud to get the first prize.”
Read: Four First Nations artists you need to know
The Telstra NATSIAA is the longest-running Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts awards in the country. The total prize pool doubles this year to $190,000 (previously $80,000).
2022 NATSIAA Category Winner
Adam Worrall, director of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT), said he has observed the Telstra NATSIAA for many years, adding that he sees it as “a valuable platform for artists to exchange ideas, mediums and practices , which is currently taking place and allows visitors to see a snapshot of the magnificent works of art currently being created across the country.
This year, 63 finalists from across Australia were selected from a total of 221 entries. These are the category winners:
Telstra General Painting Prize
Artist: Betty Muffler
Artwork: Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Land) 2021
Country: Indulkana, SA
Born near Watarru in South Australia, Betty Muffler now lives and works in Indulkana in the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. She is a highly respected senior and artist at Iwantja Arts and a renowned one as well Ngangkari (traditional doctor).
your winning picture Ngangkari Ngura is characteristically monochromatic. She began painting in her late 70s and won Best Emerging Artist at the 2017 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards.
“Receiving the Telstra General Painting Award just five years later, in 2022, is recognition of her meteoric journey and deserved rise as an artist,” said the jury. “Muffler’s intuitive branding is steeped in stories and layers of complex cultural knowledge. The artist’s deep reverence for country is palpable. As a painting, Ngangkari Ngura is expertly refined.’
Telstra Bark Painting Award
Artist: The late Mrs. D Yunupiŋu,
Artwork: Yunupiŋu – The rock 2021
Country: Yirrkala, NT
Unfortunately, the art world and community lost Ms. D. Yunupiŋu just a few months ago, just before her work was celebrated in the NGV exhibition Bark ladies. This victory further cements her legacy in the history of Aboriginal art.
Known as the “lady who paints mermaids,” the judges said of her winning bark: “This sleek bark was whimsically rendered using a combination of naturally occurring ocher tones of cream, white and black; and synthetic pigments made from recycled printer cartridges to create a brilliant and captivating palette of fuchsia, pink and magenta tones.’
Ms. D. Yunupiŋu was a finalist in both 2021 and 2022 in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, Darwin and was the first artist ever to be selected with a portrait Bark as a finalist for the Archibald Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2021.
Read: Tal painter Mrs. D. Yunupiŋu, mother of the Rirratjiŋu nation
Telstra Works on Paper Award
Artist: Gary Lee
Artwork: Nagi, 2022
Country: Garramilla / Darwin, NT
Gary Lee’s photographs of Aboriginal men have historically been described as “solemn, bold and uncompromising”. This award-winning work is no exception.
A Darwin born and raised Larrakia artist of Chinese and Filipino heritage. His background includes fashion design, anthropology, art consultant for Mimi Arts and Crafts and arts administration, and a broad practice related to materials.
The jury said of his award-winning work on paper: “This poignant and intimate depiction of Lee’s grandfather – Juan (John) Roque Cubillo – marks a high point in the artist’s career. By reclaiming the historic photographic archive, Lee firmly reorients it in the contemporary and personal realm.’
They continue: “Nagi radiates tenderness and affection.” With oil pastel and pencil, the work radiates an almost sensual component.
Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D Award (sponsored by Telstra)
Artists: Bonnie Burangarra and Freda Ali Wayartja
Artwork: An-gujechiya 2021
Country: Yilan, Cape Stewart NT
Bonnie Burangarra and Freda Wayartja both work with Maningrida Arts and Milingimbi Art and Culture and are master weavers, cultural guides and educators.
Wayartja is Burarra, one of the Eastern language groups specializing in the usual conical dilly bags, woven string bags and mats. She is particularly well known for using Mirlarl (Malaisia scandens), a grape variety that grows in the coastal jungle.
Burangarra belongs to the Burarra / Walamangu people and is an internationally acclaimed fiber artist. She is one of the few remaining champions Anguchechiya (pots) manufacturer.
“Bonnie has the wisdom, strength and gentleness of a woman who has lived her whole life in her homeland, with the culture of her ancestors ingrained in her everyday life,” the Art Center said.
The judges added of their winning work, “This intricate sculpture is an example of contemporary indigenous fiber practice. It exudes ingenuity, technical excellence and a commitment to the slow, diverse stages of fiber art production.
“The mastery of the natural fibers the artists work with and their ability to collaborate is remarkable. This an-gujechiya is simultaneously a contemporary work of art and a form of cultural continuity.’
In selecting this award, the judges recognize the importance of fiber production in contemporary indigenous art practice.
Telstra Multimedia Prize
Artist: Jimmy John Thaiday
Artwork: Beyond the Lines 2022
Country: Erub, Torres Strait, QLD
Jimmy John Thaiday is part of the Erub Arts Community, a group of artists who use their practice to speak about sea and land and the pressures of climate change and environmental degradation. Best known for her work with ghost nets, which often reflect the cultural stories of animals caught in the nets, this work is a departure and a powerful development for Thaiday.
The judges commented: “Beyond the Lines is technically adept and masterful. Its refined visual rhythm is carefully timed, combining a convincing use of wide-angle lenses with close-ups. The thoughtful use of sound is also remarkable.
They added: “This powerful and emotive work explores the connection between the artist and his land, illustrated through sea, land, sky and wildlife (in the form of the Waumer, the frigate bird).”
Thaiday told the DAAF ahead of his win: “I’m researching different ways of incorporating digital imagery and using the destructive nets and ropes. I want to bring the animals and the landscape together. I want to embed myself and my community in the landscape so that we are seen as one.”
Telstra Emerging Artist Award
Artist: Louise Malarvie
Artwork: Pamarr Yara, 2022
Country: Kununurra, WA
A freshman at the NATSIAAs, the judges recognized the work of Louise Malarvie, whose work they described as a “seductive painting.” [that] conveys a layered grainy texture suggesting that the earth is being swept, shifted and redistributed by the spread of rain and flooding.’
They add that the subtlety Malarvie was able to master demonstrates her “dexterity in applying earth pigments” and that “her composition simultaneously conveys nuanced and distinctive features of the land and the vastness and immensity of the Great Sandy Desert”.
The Telstra NATSIAA exhibition is on view at MAGNT in Darwin from August 6, 2022 to January 15, 2023.