Telstra art awards show off powerful Indigenous art and artists

Radiating spirit, power and energy, the giant Stringybark painting Journey to America 2018, has been awarded the overall winner of the 2019 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT).

Created by renowned Yolŋu artist, Djambawa Marawili AM, from Yilpara in East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, the painting reminisces on his recent travels to America.

The spirit of Yolŋu philosophy flows through Journey to America 2018 as Maḏarrpa saltwater and/or fire between the two countries.

The piece creates five different states of water in Blue Mud Bay – the Yirritja estates of Yathikpa, Baraltja coastal and Baraltja riverine and the Dhuwa waters of Djarwarrk and Dhudi Djapu.

The dominant flow is Marawili singing the fire of the estate of Yathikpa which is passing from Australia, represented by the nation’s coat of arms, towards America, home of female ‘ancestral being’ the Statue of Liberty.

MAGNT Director, Marcus Schutenko applauds Marawili for the win.

“Congratulations to Djambawa Marawili AM on such an exemplary and expressive artwork. This year, MAGNT received such an impressive selection of high-calibre artwork from across Australia and Mr Marawili’s artwork is a clear reflection of this,” Mr Schutenko said.

Curator of Aboriginal Art and Material Culture at MAGNT, Luke Scholes, said that the piece is an incredibly sophisticated and innovative work that answers the global interest in Indigenous art.

“Marawili’s application of traditional, cultural designs to show a journey through life is beautifully innovative – the fact that we have a figurative depiction of the Statue of Liberty on a bark painting is amazing,” Mr Scholes said.

“Here we have a real cultural leader, a real activist, a diplomat, Marawili, producing this incredibly innovative work. When you walk into the gallery, it’s immediately impressive, it is immersive.”

In its 36th year, Telstra NATSIAA brings together paintings, sculptures and photographs that create a visual journey of the evolution of contemporary Indigenous art, asking the question: what is Indigenous art?

“That’s the question we are all asking ourselves. There are works in this exhibition that do ask that and I think it is something they grapple with. But it is extremely exciting to work, as a curator, with art that asks this question,” Mr Scholes said.

Mr Scholes hopes that those walking into the exhibition in the coming week let the art challenge their ideas of Australian identity.

“We are incredibly lucky to have these artists sharing their knowledge with us in really different ways and providing a way for us to ask the question – what is it like to be Australian? What is Australian? Who are Australian people? I think the art will get people closer to answering that question personally,” Mr Scholes said.

“There is a quality of work in the exhibition that deserves a place in global contemporary art … the rest of the world is now beginning to recognise the artist power of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.”

The judging panel comprised of Art Gallery of South Australia Director Rhana Devenport, established Tiwi artist and cultural leader Pedro Wonaeamirri (Gurrumaiyuwa), and Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery Senior Curator of Indigenous Cultures, Zoe Rimmer.

With over 280 entries and 68 finalists, the judges announced winners for six categories including:

  • Telstra General Painting Award
  • Telstra General Works on Paper Award
  • Telstra Bark Painting Award
  • Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D Award
  • Telstra Multimedia Award
  • Telstra Emerging Artist Award.

All category winners receive $5,000 in prize money.

Telstra NATSIAA finalists’ works will be exhibited at MAGNT in Darwin from Friday August 9 until Sunday November 3.

For full details go to:

By Rachael Knowles

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