Alison Mackay is the 2020 recipient of the $20,000 Gallipoli Art Prize for her painting Breathe.
In a first for the prize, the exhibition is open to viewers through a 360 degree virtual tour of the Merrylands RSL where it is currently installed. While the RSL remains closed to the public, this innovation brings works by the winners and finalists to a much wider audience.
Mackay’s winning work, painted on nine birch panels, depicts nine gas masks from World War I. For the artist, this piece was partly a response to recent experiences of bushfires on the NSW South Coast.
“The gas mask was patented in 1914 and over a century later, in this recent summer of fire and smoke, protective breathing masks were once again in use,” Mackay says in her artist statement. “My personal experience of these fires and the mask I needed to wear for smoke protection made me think about this connection between past and present.”
Of course, given the current impact of COVID-19 restrictions on exhibitions and ANZAC Day memorials alike, the breathing mask is an especially poignant image.
The prize, which has been running for 15 years, invites artists to respond to the Gallipoli Memorial Club’s values of loyalty, respect, love of country, courage and comradeship. The works do not need to depict warfare or relate to any particular conflict.
Artists Lori Pensini and Deirdre Bean received Highly Commended awards for their works.
Award judge and Gallipoli Club president John Robertson pointed out the resonance of the prize at this moment in history. “At a time when we are suffering great fear and loss worldwide, The Gallipoli Art Prize provides an important opportunity to reflect on periods of hardship in our collective history, including the 1919 influenza pandemic, and to commemorate those qualities that helped us through adversity.”