Growing the national profile of Aboriginal art with the 36th Telstra NATSIAA

Gina Fairley

Australia’s premier Awards for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Telstra NATSIAA are extending a greater national reach for the 36th edition in 2019.
Growing the national profile of Aboriginal art with the 36th Telstra NATSIAA

Installation view of the 35th Telstra NATSIAA exhibition at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory; supplied

With this year’s Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) exhibition now in its final weeks, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) already has its sights set on the 36th edition of these iconic Awards.

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For 2019, MAGNT is focused on ensuring the Awards have greater reach than ever before.

‘It is one of our highest priorities – to ensure that the Awards are representative of nationwide practice,’ said Luke Scholes, MAGNT Aboriginal Art Curator.

‘Sometimes you just have to reach out to artists and say “have a go.”’

Established in 1984, the Awards have grown into a mature and nuanced showcase of contemporary practice, offering a prize pool of $80,000 across seven diverse categories.

This year, 66 finalists were selected from over 300 entries across all states and territories.

‘I always encourage artists, whether they make it to the finalist list or not, to come to the exhibition,’ said Scholes. ‘It is an incredible platform for them to project that idea of their own work amongst their artistic peers. The Awards really do that – they inspire artists to reach those professional heights.’

He continued: ‘We want to remind artists that there are a number of categories for the Awards. The multi-media category, for example, had an increase of 400% in entries this year. We don’t want people to be blindsided by the idea that NATSIAA is just a painting prize – and our recent winners demonstrate that diversity.’

Curator Hetti Perkins, who serves on the Telstra NATSIAA selection committee (2017-2019) agrees that national reach and diversity are important.

‘That reach is important because it is in keeping with the idea that the artists are celebrating a unity within their diversity. Whether bark painting, weaving, video or an installation, there is this common thread of celebration and survival.’

Perkins continued: ‘In Australia, freight is expensive, and it’s not always possible for artists in remote area to apply, but it is certainly worth the effort if you can. For an artist to be pre-selected and included is such a win in itself, because there are such big audiences around the Awards and that exposure can bring many benefits.’

Telstra Multimedia Award Patrina Liyadurrkitj Mununggurr (Yirrkala, NT), Dhunupa‘kum nhuna wanda (Straightening your mind), video work; Photo Fiona Morrison

The creative diversity of the Telstra NATSIAA exhibition is not just an inspiration for artists, but also for audiences, said Scholes. ‘That diversity challenges audience to expand upon their own definition of what Aboriginal art should look like – and that is a fantastic thing for people to take away.’

On a related subject, Perkins noted: ‘I think one of the things the industry has suffered from in recent years is a sector where people have behaved unprofessionally and unethically, and Telstra NATSIAA really adheres to the “gold standard” of arts practice – it is a signal that all is well and healthy.

‘It’s good to have this annual reminder that innovative aesthetic practice is storming ahead, and that these are works of immaculate provenance and are highly competitive,’ Perkins told ArtsHub.

Thinking of applying?

Perkins recommends that anyone interested in being part of Telstra NATSIAA get in touch with MAGNT. ‘People are really keen to talk through options and support artists – it’s not a faceless monolith of an institution.’

She continued: ‘My advice is really just to put your best foot forward – if you go for it, then absolutely go for it. And that applies to both emerging as well as established artists.’

Scholes noted that every year there are artists who apply for the first time, and are accepted as finalists.

‘My main advice is to start on your entries early and give yourself the opportunity to have plenty of time to consider which works you want to enter,’ he said.

‘It is an opportunity for your work to be seen by a really large cross-section of professionals in the visual arts sector – artists, curators, gallerists, critics – and it is an incredibly prestigious career boost to be part of that.’

The 35th Telstra NATSIAA Awards continues at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory until Sunday 11 November 2018.

Entries for Telstra NATSIAA 36 open in November. To learn more about how to apply visit magnt.net.au

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years.

She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW, and you can follow her on Twitter @ginafairley and Instagram at fairleygina.