On Friday the country’s most prestigious awards for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists were held, under slightly different circumstances than usual. Gamilaroi woman and host of The Today Show Brooke Boney presented the first-ever live online broadcast for NATSIAA, a dynamic and exciting celebration of the seven category winners chosen from 65 shortlisted entries.
The biggest win of the night went to Ngarralja Tommy May, a Wangkajunga and Walmajarri artist who took out the Telstra Art Award for his work Wirrkanja depicting his family’s Country, with a prize of $50,000. The six other category winners – Adrian Jangala Robertson, Iluwanti Ken, Marrnyula Munyngurr, Siena Mayutu Wurmarri Stubbs, Jenna Lee and Cecilia Umbagai – each took home $5,000 for their achievements.
There was a wide variety of mediums represented in the winning artists. Multidisciplinary artist and graphic designer Jenna Lee, who won the Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D Award for her work HIStory vessels, used the cover and pages of the Ladybird History Book ‘The Story Of Captain Cook’ to create a series of sculptures based on ancestral vessels. ‘For me, it was never about winning. I love the community that’s formed around the NATSIAA – all the artists follow each other and get to know each other’, says Jenna. ‘It’s so nice that industry experts agree that what I’m trying to say, and make, and the stories I’m trying to tell are important.’
There’s still one major award to be decided – The People’s Choice Award. Take a tour of the NATSIAA virtual gallery to see all the incredible shortlisted projects and cast your vote!
Telstra Art Award – Ngarralja Tommy May
Ngarralja Tommy May is a Wangkajunga and Walmajarri man born in Yarrkurnja in the Great Sandy Desert, and currently living in Fitzroy Crossing. He is a founding member of the Karrayili Adult Education centre where he learnt to read and write his own language and English.
Using etching on metal and enamel paint as his medium, Wirrkanja tells the story of Tommy May’s Country.
‘This is about my Country. There is a claypan, near to Kurtal it’s also called Helena Springs, a well on the Canning Stock Route’, explains Tommy May. ‘My brother was born here. There’s living water (jila) at Kurtal, when it rains it fills up and makes a spring. It runs out this way, flows around the rocks and caves.’
‘Thank you mob in Darwin for this business. Thank you. At last. I feel proud. I’ve been trying all my life, all the time second, fourth, last, sometimes nothing. But I got it now, today. My days, my time this year, I’m the winner. At last.’
Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D Award – Jenna Lee
Jenna Lee is an artist and graphic designer living in Melbourne (Naarm), whose highly symbolic work seeks to reclaim agency over the historic representation of Aboriginal people in Australia. Created in response to the 250-year anniversary of Lieutenant James Cook’s arrival, HIStory vessels work with the pages and cover board of the Ladybird History Book ‘The Story Of Captain Cook’, stripping back the pages and breaking them down using steam and heat to form modern-day coolamon (ancestral vessels), literally reclaiming history.
Telstra Bark Painting Award – Marrnyula Munyngurr
On a single piece of bark Marrynula has created a series of smaller works. In Muṉguymirri (which means ‘in small pieces’), Marrnyula uses the cross-hatching grid pattern which is the sacred design for the freshwaters of the Djapu clan at their homeland.
‘Sitting down and doing like on the small bark first, I changed my work like to do like bigger square ones, those big bark. But it’s about same story – about freshwater, but different way, style. I love painting because I learnt with family and with my dad.’
Telstra Works On Paper Award – Iluwanti Ken
Originally from Watarru, Illuwanti is an artist with Tjala Arts in Amata on APY lands in South Australia, where she has lived with her family since 2003.
Walawulu ngunytju kukaku ananyi (Mother eagles going hunting) tells the story of mother eagles bringing food back to their babies, a subject matter Illuwanti is known for painting. She makes the connection between the eagles and Anangu mothers, and how they can teach women important lessons about survival, protection and shelter.
Telstra Emerging Artist Award – Cecilia Umbagai
‘I’m a young Worrorra woman and live in Mowanjum community 10km outside of Derby in the West Kimberley of Western Australia’, says Cecilia. ‘The three tribes who live in Mowanjum: Worrorra, Ngarinyin, and Wunumbal share their belief of the Wandjina who are sacred ancestral spiritual beings and created the land and control the elements, the flora and fauna, and the humans. We are custodians of Wandjina Wunggund law. I’ve been painting all my life, learning from the elders, sitting with them while they worked, listening’.
Telstra General Painting Award – Adrian Jangala Robertson
Adrian is a landscape painter based in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) who works with a restricted palette. His work refers to the desert mountains, ridges and trees that are part of his mother’s country, Yalpirakinu.
His winning work, Yalpirakinu, captures the drama, energy and memories of this important place.
Telstra Multimedia Award – Siena Mayutu Wurmarri Stubbs
At just 18 years old, Yolŋu girl Sienna Mayutu Wurmarri Stubbs was the youngest finalist and now winner in this year’s NATSIAA. Her practice is focused on capturing moments and memories realised through the medium of film. Her winning work, Shinkansen, was captured on the bullet train from Nagoya to Kyoto.
‘This artwork was created when I went overseas to Japan. I actually left home three days after my grandma died – and it was a shock. So I guess this video was a response and how I was feeling in this moment, sitting on that bullet train in Japan’, says Siena.
Take a virtual tour of the amazing 2020 NATSIAA finalists exhibition here!
National Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Awards Exhibition
19 Conacher Street
The Gardens, Darwin NT