$42,000 prize asks artists to respond to Biblical theme

The Mandorla Art Award is a Christian contemporary art prize which asks artists to respond creatively to a specific piece of scripture. Entries open soon.
$42,000 prize asks artists to respond to Biblical theme

Caption: Mikaela Castledine’s award-winning entry to the 2018 Mandorla Art Award, God is in the House. Image supplied.

‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?’

Perth’s Anglican Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy recently proclaimed these sentences, from the prophetic Book of Micah in the Old Testament, as the theme for the latest iteration of the Mandorla Art Award, an acquisitive art prize presented biennially since 1985.


By reflecting on this Biblical passage and interpreting its meaning through their work – whether in two dimensions or three, new media or installation – artists will follow in the footsteps of Raphael, Caravaggio, Michelangelo and more recently Julie Dowling, Paul Kaptein and Mikaela Castledine, all of whom have explored Christian scripture through the medium of fine art.

‘You think back to earlier times in history and that was the predominant form of fine art,’ said Kristy Gough, curator of the Mandorla Art Award.

‘The Church used to commission artists to do exactly what we’re asking artists to do today. Unfortunately we don’t have the means to be able to employ artists on a fulltime basis as it was done back in the day, but this is a way for us to try and use the visual arts in a more meaningful way … encouraging artists to develop their own interpretation and explore their own emotional connection to the scriptures through their art.’

The Mandorla Art Award offers a total prize pool of $42,000, including the $25,000 acquisitive main prize, as well as two highly commended awards of $5,000, the $5,000 Patricia Toohey painting award and a People’s Choice award of $2,000.

Like many art awards, however, the Award offers more than just a cash prize – shortlisted entrants can find abundant career opportunities developing if shortlisted, including sales through the touring finalists’ exhibition.

‘We sell a number of works through the main exhibition but our biggest sale ever was actually from showing at St John of God Hospital in Murdoch. As part of our touring exhibition in 2016, someone who visited the St John of God Murdoch Hospital saw the artist’s work on display and ended up purchasing it from that exhibition. It’s not somewhere you would expect to buy artwork but it certainly does happen!’

Past participants have also been commissioned to bring new colour and life to some of Australia’s many churches.

‘When you go overseas, to Europe for example, the churches there are adorned with some quite amazing artworks, and we’d like to see more of that here in Australia. We’re not just an art award where the winning work will be acquired by the Mandorla Collection at New Norcia Museum and Art Gallery – we’re also here to establish a group of artists who can be called upon to do commissions for churches as well,’ Gough explained.

Informed responses to the theme are provided through essays and commentaries, which will be posted on the Mandorla Art Award website in the coming weeks. Gough also urged potential entrants to attend one of their upcoming forums, which will be held around the country.

‘Our main criteria are artistic excellence, so a really stunning artwork,  and really clear links with the theme – that’s what we’re looking for.’

She also encouraged artists to supply high quality photographs that display their work to its best advantage when they enter the Award, as well as an artist’s statement expanding on their response to the theme.

Once entries to the Award have closed, two separate selection panels are employed, with the first selection panel developing a shortlist of works for display at the finalists’ exhibition.

‘From there we have a secondary panel, a new set of judges who make the final decision for the art prizes. There is always a theologian and two art professionals on each of those panels, so there’s someone who has a really deep understanding of the scripture and then two people who can speak to the artistic excellence of the work,’ Gough said.

Entries to the Mandorla Art Award open in March. Visit mandorlaart.com for details on how to enter and to learn more about this year’s theme.

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Richard Watts

Tuesday 29 January, 2019

About the author

Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on community radio station Three Triple R FM, a program he has hosted since 2004.

Richard currently serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management, and is also a former Chair of Melbourne Fringe. The founder of the Emerging Writers' Festival, he has also served as President of the Green Room Awards Association and as a member of the Green Room's Independent Theatre panel. 

Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Festival Living Legend in 2017. Most recently he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize for 2019.

Twitter: @richardthewatts