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Unrivalled opportunity for Indigenous artists

Andrea Simpson

The most prominent awards for Indigenous artists is now calling for applications. Enter and show the nation what you can create.
Unrivalled opportunity for Indigenous artists

Nicole MONKS Wajarri Alexandria NSW We are all animals Performance Category: Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D (NATSIAA sponsored by Telstra). Image supplied.

Presented by the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (Telstra NATSIAA) is a prestigious, multi-disciplinary exhibition featuring seven separate categories, ranging from general painting and bark painting to 3D sculpture/installation. An additional award category for multimedia art has been added this year, to reflect the diverse entries submitted in previous iterations of the Award.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists at all stages of their careers, from communities, rural areas and urban centres across Australia, are encouraged to enter.

Nicole Monks, winner of the 2016 Wandjuk Marika 3D Memorial Award, broke new ground last year by entering a performance piece, We are all animals. Monks said she was encouraged by the support she received for the work.

‘The awards are very open to supporting artists working in innovative ways… so open-minded in supporting the artist,’ she told ArtsHub. ‘Mob are using very different mediums and formats and it is very bold of these awards to supply a national platform.’

NATSIAA celebrates its 34th year this year with an exhibition running from 11 August to 26 November 2017. Winners will be announced in early August, with the overall winner receiving the prodigious amount of $50,000. In total, the Award distributes $80,000 in prize money.

Find out more about NATSIAA here

But it’s not just about the prize money for Monks; she places just as much emphasis on the other artists she has met as a result of her participation in the Awards exhibition.

‘It's an honour to be shown at the NATSIAA and be exhibiting beside the masters of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art,’ she said.

New approaches

Monks is an enigmatic artist; a Wajarri Yamatji woman, she is constantly interacting with new materials and disciplines. Her winning performance piece, We are all animals, deeply moved the 2016 judges.

Monks uses her art to explore her journey as an Aboriginal woman entangled between colonisation and her Indigenous heritage. ‘I embodied these two parts of who I am, the native and the introduced ­­– an unidentifiable creature’.

The dialogue between an emu skirt and the sheepskin headdress worn in Monks’ winning piece explored new ways of conveying her emotional state and displacement in Australian society.

‘We are all trying to put these layers between us and the rest of the world. We put concrete down on the earth, we put nets in the ocean so we can swim in it. It’s all these layers we are putting in between us and the earth,’ she said.

MAGNT Curator Luke Scholes is passionate about NATSIAA – especially what NATSIAA can do for the participating artists.

‘This is the place to announce yourself as an artist; this is the exhibition that can expose your work to the highest number of artists, curators, collectors and industry figures,’ he said.

The significance of the Awards is demonstrated by the range of artists, from established figures to emerging practitioners, who enter NATSIAA each year, Scholes explained – and that number is growing. 

‘I think the breadth of the types of entrants we are receiving is expanding,’ he said. ‘Certainly the breadth of materials that artists are engaging with has expanded dramatically. There are a lot of Indigenous artists interacting with new materials and new approaches.’

Embracing emerging artists

In addition to adding a multimedia category to the Award this year, the Telstra NATSIAA is encouraging younger artists to apply by reconfiguring the Youth Award, now renamed the Emerging Artist Award, to include new and emerging artists within their first five years of practice.

‘An Emerging Artist Award really reflects the reality of what is being produced,’ Scholes said.

Conversely, the Award is also open to older practitioners. ‘There are some Indigenous artists who will pick up a paint brush or an axe for a carving and enter for the first time when they’re much older.’ 

As the Awards and accompanying exhibition draws closer, excitement builds at MAGNT.  Scholes reflects on his experience: ‘It’s the anticipation of being struck by exciting new works from unknown artists and seeing the revival of the movements masters. It’s seeing the work of emerging artists, and witnessing the shifts in the works of mid-career artists.’

Monks urged her peers to enter their work to NATSIAA. ‘It is truly an amazing place for everyone to come together to show as a nation what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are doing,’ she said.

The 34th Telstra NATSIAA is now open for submission and will close by Friday 17 March 2017. Learn more at www.magnt.net.au/natsiaa Winners will be announced in August 2017.

About the author

Andrea Simpson is an ArtsHub staff writer.

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