Yolŋu artist Djambawa Marawili AM has won the prestigious Telstra Art Award at this year’s 2019 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) in Darwin. Voting now opens for the People’s Choice Award until early November.

Journey to America 2018

Created in his homeland of Yilpara in East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, Marawili’s artwork Journey to America 2018 reflects on his recent extensive travels to the United States promoting Yolŋu philosophy.

Made from natural pigments on stringybark, the artwork was selected as the overall winner of the 36th Telstra NATSIAA from more than 280 entries from 68 talented finalists. Journey to America 2018 was selected by an experienced judging panel comprising Art Gallery of South Australia director Rhana Devenport, established Tiwi artist and cultural leader Pedro Wonaeamirri and Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery senior curator of Indigenous cultures Zoe Rimmer.

In their comments, the judges praised the tremendous power, energy and spirit of the piece. “The scale is remarkable, and Djambawa Marawili’s virtuosic use of natural materials and intricate and complex brushwork, honed over decades of dedicated practice, creates dynamic flows and movement across this immense bark. The personal narrative within the work articulates his leading role in sharing Yolŋu philosophy with the world.”

The ideas and philosophy represented in Marawili’s work flow like sacred maḏarrpa saltwater between the two countries, moving from Australia’s coat of arms to the Statue of Liberty, the US’ iconic female ancestral figure. The entire piece shows five different states of water in Blue Mud Bay on the eastern coast of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory – the Yirritja estates of Yathikpa, Baraltja coastal and Baraltja riverine, and the Dhuwa waters of Djarwarrk and Dhudi Djapu.

In addition to the major $50,000 Telstra Art Award prize, NATSIAA includes six categories across multiple art disciplines. The 2019 category winners, who each receive $5000 for their winning works, are:

Telstra General Painting Award – Kaylene Whiskey, Indulkana, SA

Seven Sistas 2018

In their comments, the 36th Telstra NATSIAA judges said of Whiskey’s work: “In this irreverent interpretation of the Kungkarangkalpa (Seven Sisters) Tjukurpa (Dreaming), Kaylene Whiskey invents and casts her own heroic women onto an imaginary stage within her community at Indulkana. By reclaiming televised pop culture idols she celebrates female empowerment and sisterhood by creating an exuberant drama and in a playful twist superimposes the scene onto a repurposed tourism road sign. Connecting generations and cultures, Kaylene paints her Tjukurpa to a loud soundtrack of classic rock, pop, and country music.”

Telstra General Works on Paper Award – Nyaparu (William) Gardiner (dec), South Hedland, WA

Our Old People 2018

“Heartfelt and highly personal, this inventive frieze-like work on paper honours elders and remembers people who are now gone. Originally a storyteller in Nyangumarta language, Mr Gardiner’s poignant drawings and paintings of people and place frequently recall his time working on pastoral stations in the Pilbara and the Kimberley. There is an intimacy in this ambitious work that connects directly with our humanity.”

Telstra Bark Painting Award – Noŋgirrŋa Marawili, Yirrkala NT

Lightning strikes 2018

“In a radical reinterpretation of materials, Noŋgirrŋa Marawili has interspersed a new language of unexpected colour into the tradition of bark painting by recycling the ‘found materials’ of magenta print toner. Noŋgirrŋa is a senior woman working from Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre at Yirrkala. The confident iconographic forms in the work carry important cultural knowledge informed by her strong familial ties.”

Telstra Multimedia Award – Gutiŋarra Yunupiŋu, Yirrkala, NT

Gurrutu’mi Mala – My connections 2019

“This is an exciting and inspirational multimedia work that tells a highly personal story about communicating cultural identity and connection. The artist casts himself in this captivating digital video, highlighting the importance of barrkungu wanga (language from a distance) sign language within the everyday life of his Yirrkala community where he works as a cameraman and film editor. This is an important work in its remarkable translation of cultural language through the language of art. The work is timely given that 2019 is the UNESCO International Year of Indigenous Languages.”

Telstra Emerging Artist Award – Titus Nganjmirra, Gunbalanya, NT

Queen Elizabeth 2019

“This sophisticated and concentrated work is both serious and playful, referencing Australia’s history of colonisation and the resilience of Indigenous culture and in particular the visual language of West Arnhem Land. This work is a vigorous mix of ancient cultural knowledge and recent events that have irrevocably shaped the politics and governance of this land.

Voting now open for People’s Choice

We’re always proud to sponsor the NATSIAA, the country’s longest running and most prestigious Indigenous arts awards – now in their 36th year. We have supported the awards for 28 of the past 36 years, and are looking forward to the future and an extended partnership for another three years ahead.

Australian Indigenous art is unique and unlike any other genre – it represents the history of our country through many different mediums, chronicling and capturing over 60,000 years of Indigenous life in forms as diverse as rock paintings, body art and canvas and preserving language and culture for Australia’s First Nations people.

We believe that understanding and interacting with Indigenous art helps share ideas and culture around our diverse nation, and we hope our work with MAGNT to steward the NATSIAA over its history brings people closer together and helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people thrive.

Voting in the People’s Choice Award for the 36th Telstra NATSIAA is now open to all visitors to the awards exhibition at MAGNT Darwin. If you’re in the area, please visit the MAGNT gallery and experience the beauty of this year’s NATSIAA winners for yourself.