Every year, hundreds of deeply talented Indigenous artists share their stories and histories through brilliant artworks submitted for the annual Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA). We’re proud to announce that, Western Australia artist Ngarralja Tommy May is the winner of the overall 2020 Telstra Art Award for his incredible piece, Wirrkanja 2020.

Working with the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) to display Indigenous culture through artwork and storytelling in the Telstra NATSIAA, we believe in a vision for an inclusive Australia where all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are connected and empowered to thrive. It is with the deepest respect that we support this long-running and prestigious awards program.

This year’s Telstra NATSIAAs saw 65 incredible Indigenous artists representing their individual nations to tell stories through various creative endeavours as part of Australia’s most prestigious and longest-running Indigenous art awards.

Normally the work of both finalists and winners in the NATSIAA exhibition can only be viewed at MAGNT in Darwin, however, we are in a time that is far from typical. Instead, we’re bringing these incredible works to the world through a virtual gallery. That way, everyone can experience the beauty of these works online, and these artists can share their talent with the world.

The virtual gallery will also allow more Australians to have their say on their favourite artwork by voting in the annual Telstra People’s Choice Award.

We want to congratulate Ngarralja Tommy May for his incredible work, and also congratulate the other winners in this year’s Telstra NATSIAAs.

Telstra Art Award

NATSIAA 37 entry. Photograph by Merinda Campbell

Winner – Ngarralja Tommy May for his work Wirrkanja

Born in Yarrkurnja in the Great Sandy Desert, Mr May says his work represents the culmination of a 30-year practice.

“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,” Mr May said.

Speaking of the work – a 120 x 120 cm etching on metal and enamel paint – Mr May revealed that it is a deeply personal story.

“This tin was my new idea, new work. 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.”

The Telstra NATSIAA judges described Mr May’s work as a representation of an artist at the height of his creative powers, adding that it “announces itself with exquisite beauty and power in the signature style Mr May has pioneered in recent years.”

Telstra General Painting Award

Adrian Jangala NATSIAA headshot

Winner – Adrian Jangala for his synthetic polymer paint on canvas work Yalpirakinu

Alice Springs artist Adrian Robertson’s paintings consistently refer to the desert mountains, ridges and trees that are part of his mother’s country, Yalpirakinu. Adrian primarily uses a restricted palette and captures his country using brushwork loaded with energy and drama. He is a thoughtful painter; reworking, pushing and pulling the image to completion.

Telstra Bark Painting Award

NATSIAA 37 entry. Photograph by Merinda Campbell
NATSIAA 37 entry. Photograph by Merinda Campbell

Winner – Marrnyula Munungurr for her earth pigments on Stringybark work Muṉguymirri 2020

Marrnyula has created the crosshatching grid pattern which is the sacred design for the freshwaters of the Djapu clan at their homeland Waṉḏawuy now an outstation about 150 kilometres south of Yirrkala and inland from Blue Mud Bay in the NT. She is well known for making massive installations of hundreds of small barks to capture this effect but in this work creates the same feeling but on one bark. Muṉguymirri means ‘in small pieces’.

Telstra Works on Paper Award

NATSIAA 37 entry. Photograph by Merinda Campbell
NATSIAA 37 entry. Photograph by Merinda Campbell

Winner – Iluwanti Ken for her ink on paperwork Walawulu ngunytju kukaku ananyi 2020

Hailing from Amata in South Australia, Iluwanti is telling the story of mother eagles hunting for food and bringing it back to feed their babies. Iluwanti says these birds are like Anangu mothers, they strong shelters, they hunt to find food to feed their children and protect their babies from outside dangers.

Wandjuk Marika 3D Memorial Award (sponsored by Telstra)

NATSIAA 37 entry. Photograph by Merinda Campbell
NATSIAA 37 entry. Photograph by Merinda Campbell

Winner – Jenna Lee for her sculpture HIStory vessels 2020

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. Lee resides in Brisbane, Queensland.

Telstra Multimedia Award

Winner – Siena Mayutu Wurmarri Stubbs for her short film and sound, Shinkansen 2019

NATSIAA37 59 Siena Mayutu Wurmarri Stubbs Shinkansen

The Telstra NATSIAA judges called this piece contemporary and spontaneous, exciting and unexpected, a work that demonstrates the ability of this exciting young Yolŋu artist. The artwork is sensitive and authentic and completely captivating. The artist is present in the work through her poetry, responding to her surroundings and revealing her vulnerabilities. This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking work that intrigues and amazes with its perspective and humility.

Telstra Emerging Artist Award

NATSIAA 37 entry. Photograph by Merinda Campbell
NATSIAA 37 entry. Photograph by Merinda Campbell

Winner – Cecilia Umbagai for her earth pigments on Stringybark, Yoogu 2020

“I’m a young Worrorra woman and live in Mowanjum community 10km outside of Derby in the West Kimberley of Western Australia. 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” says Ms Umbagai.