34th NATSIAA sends powerful message

Brooke Boland

Australia’s most prestigious Indigenous art prize has been announced.
34th NATSIAA sends powerful message

Image: Anwar Young, Unrupa Rhonda Dick and Frank Young, Kulata Tjuta - Wati kulunypa tjukurpa (Many spears - Young fella story), 37 spears, digital print, wood, kangaroo tendon, kiti (natural glue), 34th Telstra NATSIAA.

The Telstra National Aboriginal and & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) are Australia’s most prestigious and longest running Indigenous art prize. Run by the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) since 1984, the awards are renowned for contributing to a deeper understanding of Indigenous culture in Australia. 

This year the overall winning work, Kulata Tjuta — Wati kulunypa tjukurpa (Many spears — Young fella story) sends a powerful message about the incarceration of young Aboriginal men in Australia. 

Selected from 300 entries and 65 finalists, Kulata Tjuta is a collaborative work by South Australian artists Anwar Young, Frank Young and Unrupa Rhonda Dick. 

‘We see many young men from remote communities becoming stuck in a cycle of reoffending and being locked up in juvenile detention centres, like Magill and Don Dale. We are concerned the whitefella way of locking people up isn’t working,’ said the artists. 

Anwar Young’s grandfather, Frank Young believes that these young men should be brought back to Country to work with Senior Men to help look after families and communities. Anwar Young and other young men from Amata have been working with their grandfathers on the Kulata Tjuta project, learning to make kulata (spears) in the traditional way. 

The winning work was selected by the judging panel: independent curator Emily McDaniel, Director of Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, Chris Saines, and artist Regina Wilson

The panel said that Kulata Tjuta ‘is a solemn and dignified call to action – to bring young Aboriginal men back to culture, language and country.’

‘Kulata Tjuta is a measured and considered response to an inherently complex and contested subject. The incarceration of young Aboriginal men affects families and entire communities. The kulata (spears) are suspended in a cell-like formation but they also function to protect a young man who looks not to us but to the future. The image is watermarked with cultural designs and the text in language has a sense of urgency and immediacy – words written, erased, edited.’

Other Category Winners

In addition to the overall prize, the award consists of six categories across multiple-art disciplines, encouraging a diverse range of entries and expressions of work. Category winners for the 2017 award include:

Telstra General Painting Award

Matjangka (Nyukana) Norris
Ngura Pilti represents a deeply felt experience of country. Using multiple perspectives, it subtly reveals the underpinning watercourses that trail across the land and give it life. Its mark-making is controlled and precise and accounts for the negative space it generates, which results in a scintillating and translucent pictorial effect.
Telstra Work on Paper Award

Robert Fielding
Milkali Kutju – One Blood deploys the compositional conventions of the political poster. Through the repetitive action of puncturing the paper with a hot wire, light filters through to reveal a succinct and bold statement. The work's unifying and reconciliatory statement moves past difference and appeals to our common humanity. 
Telstra Bark Painting Award
Nyapanyapa Yunupingu
Lines is a confident painting by a senior artist. Nyapanyapa allows the material qualities of the natural pigments to emerge, resulting in an alternation of translucency and opacity of the pigment. She expertly works across the uneven terrain of the bark, interpreting each contour as a directive for her gestural mark-making.
Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D Award (sponsored by Telstra)
Shirley Macnamara
Simple in its form but complex in construction, Nyurruga Muulawaddi demonstrates Macnamara's technical mastery over her medium. Each blade of spinifex is engineered precisely, manipulated into place and held under tension, seamless and structured. Deliberately omitting decoration, this object speaks of a mature practice honed by decades of experience.
Telstra Emerging Artist Award
Betty Muffler
Ngangkari Ngura
is comprised of complex interconnected forms that unfurl to reveal linear representations of country. This painting reflects her intimate relationship to place, inspired by her many travels across the landscape as a ngangkari (traditional healer). For an emerging artist, there is a surprising maturity in the controlled rhythm and pictorial dynamism which has been achieved.

Telstra NATSIAA finalists’ works will be exhibited at MAGNT from Saturday 12 August until Sunday 26 November, 2017. Visit www.magnt.net.au/natsiaa for details.

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer.