COVID might have taken away our holidays and our festivals, but it wasn’t going to stop the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) from unveiling their uber-talented winners for 2020.
Taking place in Larrakia country (Darwin), this year’s NATSIAA looked a little different. Gone was the big stage and crowds but what remained was a celebration of work from emerging and established artists that showcases the very best Australian Indigenous contemporary art from around the country.
If you’re not familiar with NATSIAA, each year the exhibition sees an increasing variety of art forms and media, collectively demonstrating the richness and diversity of current contemporary Indigenous artistic practice, and the pre-eminence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices, nationwide, within the visual arts.
This year’s judging panel included the Director of Injalak Arts Donna Nadjamerrek, Darwin based visual artist Karen Mills, and Curator of Araluen Arts Centre Stephen Williamson.
Taking out the top spot was Western Australia artist, Ngarralja Tommy May, who scored a cool $50,000 cash prize for his incredible work, Wirrkanja 2020. A proud Wangkajunga and Walmajarri man, May beat out 65 other finalists—something that was long overdue for this talented artist.
“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,” he said.
“This work is ‘Wirrkanja’, it’s the country where I lost my brother, its jilji (sand dune) country and flat country. There's a jila there (living spring waterhole). It’s not far from Kurtal, over two sand dunes. It’s in flood time, the water runs down the jilji (sand dunes). This is my country and my family’s country. This is my job, it’s a good job.”
Also scoring well deserved nods was Yolŋu woman Siena Stubbs who took out the Multimedia Award for her video Shinkansen: A Yolŋu girl in Japan.
Larrakia, Wardaman and Karajarri woman Jenna Lee nabbed the Wandjuk Marika 3D Memorial Award for her incredible HIStory vessels 2020.
Her work was created in response to the 250 year anniversary of Lieutenant James Cook’s arrival, HIStory vessels looks to reclaim agency of historic representation of Aboriginal people in Australia. Cook is a powerful and enduring symbol for the omnipresent, white, patriarchal, narrative and its continuing assertion of power over First Nations stories.
And last but not least, Cecilia Umbagai won the Telstra Emerging Artist Award for her work Yoogu 2020. A Worrorra woman from the Mowanjum community, Umbagai has been painting all her life, learning from her elders and working at the Mowanjum Art and Culture Centre since 2014. Since picking up a paintbrush she’s won a slew of awards so keep your eyes peeled for her next stunning creation.
For a full list of winners—seriously, they’re all amazing—head here.
Image Credit: Damian Kelly, Rlie Bliss