A veteran desert artist’s drawing inspired by his brother’s death has won Australia’s most prestigious Indigenous art prize.
Ngarralja Tommy May was announced the major winner of The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award on Friday for his work Wirrkanja.
It comes after May was repeatedly pipped at the post for more than 30 years, with the 85-year-old saying “I’m the winner at last”.
“I’ve been trying all my life, all the time second, fourth, last, sometimes nothing,” he said.
May said Wirrkanja country, near the Kurtal waterhole in the Great Sandy Desert, was flat with sand dunes as far as the eye can see
“It’s the country where I lost my brother. This is my country and my family’s country,” the Wangkajunga and Walmajarri man said.
“It’s also called Helena Springs, a well on the Canning Stock Route (in Western Australia).”
The judging panel praised May for the exquisite beauty and power of his work, saying it was a “triumphant artwork by an artist at the height of his creative powers”.
Exhibition curator Luke Scholes says this years’ entries in the long-running art award continue to be both extraordinary and political.
“It is a reminder by artists that they have survived and that we, as Australians, we live on Aboriginal land,” he said.
Northern Territory artist Adrian Jangala Robertson won the general painting award with a work depicting his mother’s country titled Yalpirakinu.
The bark painting award went to Marrnyula Munungurr for her work Munguymirri.
South Australian artist Iluwanti Ken won the works on paper award for her ink-on-paper work titled Walawulu ngunytju kukaku ananyi (Mother eagles going hunting).
The Wandjuk Marika 3D Memorial Award went to Jenna Lee for a set of sculptures titled HIStory vessels.
“This work challenges the notion that Captain Cook discovered Australia,” the judges noted.
Siena Mayutu Wurmarri Stubbs won the multimedia award with Shinkansen, while Cecilia Umbagai won the emerging artist award with the painting Yoogu.
Australian Associated Press