The 2017 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award goes to a South Australian family of artists, Anwar Young, Frank Young and Unrupa Rhonda Dick, for a collaborative multimedia work Kulata Tjuta – Wati kulunypa tjukurpa (Many spears – Young fella story). The judging panel comprising of curator, Emily McDaniel, Chris Saines, Director of QAGOMA, and artist, Regina Wilson, commented that “Kulata Tjuta is a measured and considered response to an inherently complex and contested subject. The incarceration of young Aboriginal men affects families and entire communities…This work is a solemn and dignified call to action – to bring young Aboriginal men back to culture, language and country.”
Innovations in 2017 include an Emerging Artist Award, which is an evolution of the Youth Award and recognises that many Aboriginal artists begin making art later in life. Betty Muffler took out this inaugural prize, with her intimate painting of Country, where she has travelled extensively as a ngangkari (traditional healer).
Other category winners include Robert Fielding, who also won in 2015 for a work on paper, senior artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu took out the Bark Painting Award, and Matjangka (Nyukana) Norris was honoured with the General Painting Award. Rounding out the winners of the $5000 category prizes is Shirley Macnamara for the Memorial 3D Award, for her skilful manipulation of spinifex into an object of both simplicity and precision.
The trio take home $50,000, standing out in a field of 65 finalists from all over Australia. The list includes both city and regional artists, with urban-based artists such as Archie Moore, Gary Lee and Christian Thompson (whose work is seen regularly in institutional shows) alongside others such as ceramicist Penny Evans who has a strong local following, and others like Ray Ken whose work is currently featured in the National Gallery of Australia’s Defying Empire (3rd National Indigenous Art Triennial).