Entertainment |

See the 2022 Telstra NATSIAA winners in a virtual gallery

By Genelle Sharples August 5, 2022

Image credit: Mark Sherwood

We’re proud to support the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory to announce the winners of this year’s Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (Telstra NATSIAA).

The Telstra NATSIAA is the richest art awards in Australia, with winning artists sharing in a total of $190,000 (previously $80,000) and MAGNT funds for acquisition into the Telstra Collection standing at $50,000 annually. We have recently renewed our partnership with MAGNT for another three years, extending our sponsorship to over three decades.

From the 63 finalists selected for the 2022 NATSIAA from a total of 221 entries, the winners have created powerful works that explore history and cultural identity as well as demonstrating technical virtuosity at monumental scale.

To see all the winning 2022 Telstra NATSIAA artworks, visit the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory’s virtual gallery.

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Telstra CEO Andy Penn says the awards have again showcased First Nations artistry at its highest level. “Congratulations to Margaret Rarru Garrawurra on her incredible work that connects us with the cultural history of the Yolŋu people, and to all the 2022 Telstra NATSIAA winners who have once again delivered extraordinary work across a broad range of mediums.

“Telstra is proud to have supported the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards for over 30 years, celebrating both emerging and distinguished Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Now as Australia’s richest art awards, we hope it will further attract a wide range of talented First Nations artists with a diversity of artistic talent to enter their works and share their unique Australian stories.”

This year, you can also listen to the stories of artists Kent Morris, Gail Mabo and Tyrown Waigana as they introduce and discuss their artworks.

Telstra Art Award

Credit: Margaret Rarru Garrawurra, Dhomala (pandanus sail) 2022, pandanus, kurrajong, bush dyes, 278 x 245cm. Courtesy of the artist and Milingimbi Art and Culture. Image Mark Sherwood

Winner – Margaret Rarru Garrawurra, for her work Dhomala (pandanus sail) 2022

Margaret Rarru Garrawurra was born in Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island). Today she lives on her mother’s Country of Laŋarra (Howard Island) and at Yurrwi / Milingimbi, both off the coast of Northeast Arnhem Land.

Dhomala (pandanus sail) references both the artist’s cultural identity, as well as the historical relationships that endure between Yolŋu people, and the people of modern-day Indonesia.

Rarru Garrawurra’s ambitious weaving in Dhomala (pandanus sail) has been rendered using a mixture of natural dyes to achieve deep red, black, orange, and yellow. Dhomala embodies the time-consuming processes of harvesting pandanus and colours, as well as processing materials and weaving. Each of these stages of production are as important as the other.

Telstra General Painting Award

Credit: Betty Muffler, Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country) 2021, synthetic polymer paint on linen, 167 x 198cm. Courtesy of the artist and Iwantja Arts. Image Mark Sherwood

Winner – Betty Muffler, for her work Ngangkari Ngura (Healing Country) 2021
Indulkana, SA

Betty Muffler’s Ngangkari Ngura is characterised by a subtle build-up of muted and monochromatic designs. This soft colour palette has become the artist’s signature and is immediately recognisable.

Muffler started painting in her late seventies and was judged best emerging artist at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards in 2017. Receiving the Telstra General Painting Award just five years later, in 2022, acknowledges her meteoric trajectory and deserved rise to fame as an artist.

Muffler’s intuitive mark-making is imbued with story and layers of complex, cultural knowledge. The artist’s deep reverence for Country is palpable. As a painting, Ngangkari Ngura is expertly refined. The repetition of concentric circular designs and linear striations are both elegant and complex.

Telstra Bark Painting Award

Credit: Ms D. Yunupiŋu, Yunupiŋu – The Rock 2021, earth pigments and recycled print toner on stringybark, 217 x 98cm. Courtesy of the estate of Ms D. Yunupiŋu and Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka. Image Mark Sherwood

Winner – Ms D Yunupiŋu, Yunupiŋu – The Rock 2021
Yirrkala, NT

The judges offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the late Ms D Yunupiŋu, and to the whole community at Yirrkala. We acknowledge this immense loss that continues to be felt by everyone whose life she touched.

The lady who paints mermaids had a short, but impactful career as a painter. Working in a distinctly lyrical and figurative style, Ms D Yunupiŋu draws on familial iconography to tell the story of her spiritual conception as a mermaid.

This slender bark has been whimsically rendered using a combination of naturally occurring ochres in cream, white, and black; as well as synthetic pigments drawn from recycled printer cartridges to create a brilliant and arresting array of fuchsia, pink and magenta tones.

The background of the composition is layered and filled with delicate sea creatures and stars, from which four bold mermaids emerge. Positioned in Embargoed | page 4 front of an immovable rock, the bodies of the mermaids appear ghost-like, overlapping and entwined with one another.

Telstra Works on Paper Award

Credit: Gary Philip Lee, Nagi 2022, oil pastel and pencil on digital print, 40 x 28cm. Courtesy of the artist. Image Mark Sherwood

Winner – Gary Lee, Nagi 2022
Garramilla / Darwin, NT

Nagi emanates tenderness and affection. This poignant and intimate depiction of Lee’s grandfather – Juan (John) Roque Cubillo – is a culminating work in this artist’s career.

By reclaiming the historic photographic archive Lee firmly reorients it in the present and personal realm. This work on paper demonstrates a subtle use of mark-making with oil pastel and pencil to adorn the portrait of his grandfather.

These embellishments evoke a sensory and tactile quality to the work. Softly coloured gardenias add another sensory component with the suggestion of a scented halo which softly frames the subject.

Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D Award

Credit: Bonnie Burangarra and Freda Ali Wayartja, An-gujechiya 2021, burny vine (Malaisia scandens), bush cane (Flagellaria indica), kurrajong (Brachychiton diversifolius), 64 x 280 x 61cm. Courtesy of the artist and Maningrida Arts & Culture. Image Mark Sherwood

Winner – Bonnie Burangarra and Freda Ali, An-gujechiya 2021
Yilan, NT

This sophisticated sculpture is an exemplar of contemporary Indigenous fibre practice. It exudes ingenuity, technical excellence and a commitment to the slow-paced multifarious stages of fibre art production.

The artists’ command of the natural fibres with which they work is noteworthy, as well as their capacity to collaborate.

This an-gujechiya is simultaneously a contemporary work of art and a form of cultural continuity. In selecting this award, the judges acknowledge the importance of fibre production in contemporary Indigenous art practice.

Telstra Multimedia Award

Credit: Jimmy John Thaiday, Beyond the lines 2022, single channel HD video: 16:9, colour, sound, 5:22 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Erub Art

Winner – Jimmy John Thaiday, Beyond the lines 2022
Erub, Torres Strait, QLD

This powerful and emotive work explores the interconnection between the artist to his Country as exemplified by sea, land, sky and wildlife (in the form of the waumer, the frigate bird).

This meditation on the interconnectedness of life, land and sea examines relationships and correlations between naturally occurring patterns, formations, and movements.

Beyond the lines is technically accomplished and masterful. Its refined visual rhythm is carefully paced and combines a compelling use of wide lens with close-up footage. Its thoughtful use of sound is also noteworthy.

Telstra Emerging Artist Award

Credit: Louise Malarvie, Pamarr Yara 2022, earth pigments on canvas, 125 x 130cm. Courtesy of the artist and Waringarri Arts. Image Mark Sherwood

Winner – Louise Malarvie, Pamarr Yara 2022
Kununurra, WA

This alluring painting conveys a layered granular texture suggestive of the earth being swept, shifted, and redistributed by the dispersal of rain and floodwater.

This subtle yet commanding work illustrates Malarvie’s capacity for strong composition and her deftness of earth pigment application, which inherently contain the muted colours of her Country.

Her composition simultaneously conveys nuanced and distinctive features of the land as well as the vastness and immense scale of the Great Sandy Desert.

Ngarralja Tommy May portrait
Telstra News |

Celebrating the 2020 Telstra NATSIAA winners in our virtual gallery

By Genelle Sharples August 7, 2020

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.

Krystal Hurst portrait
Entertainment |

NATSIAA 2020 finalists share intimate portraits of our history

By Genelle Sharples July 29, 2020

Indigenous storytelling through art is one important way our First Nations people share their history. For almost three decades, we’ve been proud to help create a world-class space for Indigenous artists to share their stories through the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards – also known as Telstra NATSIAA.

We believe it is an important part of Australian society to share ideas and culture through artistic expression, in all its diverse forms.

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 see 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.

Indigenous art carries extraordinary power and beauty, and as our CEO Andy Penn has said, it’s important that we’re inspired to see the world differently during these often-challenging times. Staying connected to each other and our shared history through art is more important than ever.

As part of this year’s NATSIAA awards, artists have once again expressed their unique and moving stories through a range of artistic representations. Indigenous artists are reinventing traditional forms and materials to share personal and thought-provoking stories through works we’re proud to elevate and share including:

Illiam Nargoodah
Photo: Courtesy Mangkaja Arts

IIliam Nargoodah from Fitzroy Crossing, WA, who is reviving the traditional craft of making knives by hand. From the blades to the handle, he crafts every part of the knife and his work demonstrates an extraordinary level of skill and mastery of his materials. His dedication and enthusiasm have seen him mastering welding and forging of this rare medium and attracting acclaim for reviving this ancient tradition.

Betty and Marina - courtesy the artists Mimili Maku Arts and Meg Hansen Photography LR
Photo: Courtesy Mimili Maku Arts

Art veteran and former NATSIAA winner, Betty Kuntiwa Pumani joins her daughter Marina to create a spectacular collaborative work. The piece is a moving celebration of intergenerational learning and the transfer of knowledge among Indigenous women. In this special collaboration, Marina picks up Betty’s mark and develops it into her own contemporary version of the stories she has been taught by the strong women in her family. Both women live in Mimili, a remote community in the APY Lands of South Australia.

Krystal Hurst portrait
Photo: Courtesy the artist

Jewellery maker Krystal Hurst from Canberra, ACT, says her NATSIAA artwork is inspired by her grandmother and ancestors before her. Krystal worked to create a piece that would make her feel strong and proud of the women in her family. She wanted to remind her ‘mob’ who they were and who they were connected to. The layered pippy shells are threaded with seaweed beads to represent the many generations of Worimi women and the continuation of their knowledge and strength passed on to the younger generation.


Reimagining the NATSIAA ceremony

Sadly, social distancing measures mean the much-loved evening of celebration for the awards on the MAGNT front lawn won’t be going ahead this year, but together with the MAGNT we are proud to present the details of our reimagined awards ceremony for audiences right across the country to enjoy this year.

From 6pm AEST, Friday 7 August, Gamilaroi woman and TV presenter Brooke Boney will announce the seven winners of the 2020 Telstra NATISAAs, including the coveted Telstra Art Award, in an online ceremony broadcast which can be viewed at natsiaa.com.au.

As MAGNT Director Marcus Schutenko says, the reimagined awards ceremony enables Telstra NATISAA to reach an even broader audience, giving the winning artists and finalists the acknowledgement they deserve.

Of this year’s 65 finalists, 25 hail from the Northern Territory; 16 from both South Australia and Western Australia, and eight from Queensland, New South Wales, ACT and Victoria. Additionally, eleven of our finalists are emerging artists, and have been practicing for less than five years.

We congratulate every finalist in the 2020 Telstra NATSIAA program:

Australian Capital Territory

Krystal Hurst

New South Wales

Amala Groom

Western Australia

Annette Lormada

Ben Ward

Bessie Daylight

Billy Yunkurra Atkins

Cecilia Umbagai

Cynthia Burke

Dallas Smythe

Illiam Nargoodah

John Prince Siddon

Leah Umbagai

Mabel Juli

Ngarralja Tommy May

Rosie Tarco King

Sonia Kurarra

Timo Hogan

Yukultji Napangati


Cassie Leatham

Kent Morris

Northern Territory

Adrian Jangala Robertson

Barayuwa Munuŋgurr

Deborah Wurrkidj

Dhuwarrwarr Marika

Djerrkŋu Yunupiŋu

Don Nakidilinj Namundja

Doreen Jinggarrabarra

Doris Bush Nungarrayi

Garawan Waṉambi

Gary Lee

Gutiŋarra Yunupiŋu

Jack Green

Jason Lee

Joanne Napangardi Wheeler

Lance James

Marrnyula Munuŋgurr

Mary Dhapalany

Mulkuṉ Wirrpanda

Noŋgirrŋa Marawili

Paul Namarinjmak Nabulumo

Raelene Kerinauia Lampuwatu

Rerrkirrwaŋa Munuŋgurr

Siena Mayutu Wurmarri Stubbs

Titus Nganjmirra

Yalanba Waṉambi

South Australia

Angkaliya Curtis

Betty Kuntiwa Pumani and Marina Pumani Brown

Betty Muffler

Ginger Wikilyiri

Iluwanti Ken

Keith Stevens

Leah Brady

Mark Morris

Nyunmiti Burton

Nyurpaya Kaika Burton

Peter Mungkuri and Alec Baker

Robert Fielding

Sammy Lyons

Tiger Yaltangki

Tjala Women’s Collaborative

Wawiriya Burton


Dylan Sarra

Jenna Lee

Jimmy K Thaiday – Torres Strait Islands

Ryan Presley

Entertainment |

2019 Telstra NATSIAA winners announced, People’s Choice voting opens

By Genelle Sharples August 9, 2019

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.

Timo Hogan - NATSIAA 2019 Finalist
Entertainment |

Telstra NATSIAA 2019 finalists speak their truths through art

By Genelle Sharples July 4, 2019

As we prepare to celebrate the incredible and diverse range of talents on display at this year’s Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) – presented by the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) – it’s important to reflect on how the field affects everyone it comes into contact with.

Australian Indigenous art is unique in its form and is unlike any other genre of art. Our First Nations’ people don’t simply use art to express emotions or represent beautiful scenes; Indigenous art is about storytelling and representing the history of this country through a range of mediums. Indigenous art represents over 60,000 years’ worth of history, stretching as far back as stories told through rock paintings.

Fred Grant - NATSIAA 2019 Finalist

Indigenous art – whether expressed through rock art paintings, body art, or canvas – is used to pass on information, stories and symbols for later generations. Some Indigenous art even serves to preserve languages native to Australia’s First Nations people.

Mary Dhapalany - Telstra NATSIAA 2019 Finalist
Mary Dhapalany – Telstra NATSIAA 2019 Finalist
Ernabella Arts
Ernabella Arts
Telstra NATSIAA 2018
Yaritji Young - Telstra NATSIAA 2019 Finalist
Yaritji Young – Telstra NATSIAA 2019 Finalist

The Telstra NATSIAA is the longest running and most prestigious Indigenous art prize in the country, and as a result, it attracts an incredible breadth and depth of talent.

We spoke to four of our 68 Indigenous artist finalists about their work, and asked them to share the stories of their art in their words.

Gutingarra Yunupingu (Guti)

Guti is a rising star in the Indigenous art world. Born deaf, Guti uses his artistic talents to capture the stories of his kin via film and digital media. He describes his work as “an expression of myself, my land and my people”.

At just 21 years of age, he is already the chief editor of a local art centre, and was one of the only young men in Yirrkala to complete his year 12 studies. Guti says “[his] film art is mostly autobiographical. I like to show my life and my land to the audience.”

This year, Guti’s entry is entitled “gurruṯu mi’ mala”, which he says means “my connections”.

“Gurruṯu is the connections and kinship that Yolŋu share with one another. In this artwork I am signing the Yolŋu gurruṯu names and demonstrating my position in the world of gurruṯu. These gurruṯu signs are very important to me because they represent my family.”

“I was born hearing impaired so my family and friends communicated with me using Yolŋu Sign Language (YSL). Where I live Yolŋu teach all children YSL from a young age, so I can communicate with all Yolŋu from my community easily.

“YSL is important for hearing Yolŋu also, when we go hunting we use it to communicate from a distance. When I went to school I was taught Auslan, so now I use YSL and Auslan to communicate. Without Yolŋu Sign Language I would have found it hard to communicate with my community – it has helped me make my way in this world.”

Nici Cumpston

Nici is a finalist in this year’s NATSIAAs, and brings her unique experience working on crime scene photography to capture new scenes for her art.

“I was a Photographic Technician with the South Australian Police Department (SAPOL) for 6 years in the 1990s. I developed and printed film from red light and speed cameras as well as crime scene, accident investigation and the forensic science laboratory. Only the police officers worked as photographers. I studied fine art photography and it is possible that the way I work as an artist has been influenced by my experience with SAPOL.”

Previously, Nici won the Work on Paper Award in the 2015 Telstra NATSIAA.

In her own words, Nici says she uses “both analogue and digital cameras to create photographs. I enlarge and print my images which are either colour or black and white, and I hand colour my black and white images.”

“The work I have entered is a colour photograph which I have printed as a Rorschach. It is an image which was taken on the shores of Nookamka Lake, in the Riverland of South Australia.

“As an artist, I work on many different ideas and concepts. The entry for the award this year is part of an ongoing series which is looking at sites of Aboriginal occupation within the landscape.”

Kent Morris

Kent has been a NATSIAA finalist for the past four years and produces large-scale photo works. While he has links to New South Wales through his identification as Barkindji, Kent has also worked in Victoria as part of The Torch.

The Torch works with Indigenous prisoners in Victoria to use art as therapy, and Kent works as the program’s head. Indigenous Australians make up 3 per cent of the general population yet account for almost 30 per cent of the prison population and are 15 per cent more likely to go to prison than non-Indigenous Australians.

Through its Indigenous Arts in Prisons and Community Program, The Torch provides art, cultural and arts industry support to Indigenous offenders and ex-offenders throughout Victoria. By embracing program participants as artists rather than offenders, The Torch provides an avenue to change by encouraging participants to explore identity and culture through art, develop confidence and define new pathways for themselves upon release from prison.

His NATSIAA 2019 entry, “Family Lines – Country Has a Memory”, is a large digital photograph which represents three Barkindji sisters who married three Ngemba brothers, “my great aunts and uncles on Dad’s side of our family. Two families who are continuously connected by time and place. Barkindji and Ngemba people share close ties to family, Country and culture.

“Our stories continue to defy and reshape colonial interventions, many of which have attempted to erase our histories and connections. These stories are embedded in the land even after it’s many transformations. I see and feel them, then reconstruct and transmit them for maintenance and renewal.

“My art practice reveals the continued presence and patterns of Aboriginal history and culture in the contemporary Australian landscape, despite colonial interventions that have irreversibly altered the environment.

“Through my artworks I am reconstructing the shapes and structures of the built environment. The new shapes of the built environment, and the shapes that colonialism brought with it, are being re-imagined and reconstructed to reflect the long history of Indigenous people in this country and to reaffirm continuity, identity and connectivity.”

“The Telstra NATSIAA provides an important forum for the expressing and exchange of ideas and highlight the diversity of Indigenous cultural practices today. Engagement with artists, artworks and arts industry professionals who attend the exhibition provides inspiration and cultural exchange opportunities.”

Krystal Hurst

Indigenous art takes all shapes and forms, including wearable art. Krystal Hurst is an emerging artist and jewellery maker. “I create, explore and share my work under my business Gillawarra Arts, and handmake wearable art with currently available materials and natural materials from the land, rivers and sea. I use shells, native seeds, seaweed, feathers, and laser cut on wood and plastic. To me it is important to tell stories, share knowledge and utilise language in a meaningful way. I am very new to silversmithing, and I have plans to develop this practice further and exhibit more of my wearable work,” she says.

Her entry this year is an imitation of echidna quills and wattle seeds made from bronze metal. “For me they are an expression of strength, survival, knowledge and resilience. I’ve had this piece in my mind for about a year and to see this image come to life means everything to me as a Worimi artist. I am really proud of this piece and looking forward to seeing it on display in August.”

“I grew up watching and helping my mother make jewellery among other crafts and arts for markets. It wasn’t until I got older and reflected and realised that I was doing something similar to my ancestors. For me now, I’m still exploring and expressing what it means to be a First Nations woman in modern Australia and understand how colonisation has impacted my land and people, particularly cultural practices. Within my pieces I hope that I can shed light on issues, express culture and identity, and show that Indigenous jewellery is empowering.”

“For me wearable art is a statement. It also holds knowledge, stories, memories and conversations that is connected to our culture that extends millennia. At times, wearable art has the ability to influence our emotions in ways words cannot describe. When I wear pieces I’ve made, I feel strong, connected and beautiful and if my pieces can do that for other people as well, I know that my purpose as a creator holds power and is important.”

The Telstra NATSIAA awards ceremony is on Friday 9 August and the exhibition runs from the 10 August – 3 November 2019 at MAGNT.