The First Nations Arts Awards recognise the lifetime achievements and outstanding creative practices of First Nations artists across Australia. Formerly the National Indigenous Arts Awards, the awards are held each year on May 27 to mark the anniversary of the 1967 referendum.
The 2020 award recipients were announced in a live-streamed ceremony that included a performance from Sydney Opera House. “For the first time, everyone in Australia and globally had the opportunity to join the celebration of these outstanding First Nations artists,” said Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin, the Deputy Chair of the Australia Council for the Arts and event co-host. “It was incredibly powerful to be able to come together online in this way to recognise and celebrate the centrality of First Nations artists to Australian culture and share that with a global audience.”
Senior elders Alison Milyika Carroll and Djon Mundine OAM were honoured with the Red Ochre Awards for Lifetime Achievement.
Carroll is a senior Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara artist and elder, and the award recognises her highly respected four-decade artistic practice, cultural leadership, and advocacy. Her artwork, spanning batik, ceramics and painting, spans old and new styles, communicating both Walka (design) and Tjukurpa (Law, Story and Dreaming).
Mundine, a Bandjalung man and a foundational figure in Australian art, has held senior curatorial positions in major institutions including the National Museum of Australia and the Museum of Contemporary Art. He has worked with regional significant international exhibitions of First Nations art. As an intellectual, activist and cultural leader, Mundine has made significant contributions to the development and exhibition of contemporary Aboriginal art in Australia and internationally.
Leading Yorta Yorta/Wamba Wamba/Mutti Mutti/Boonwurrung artist Maree Clarke was awarded the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Fellowship. Clarke is known for her work with possum skin, and her involvement in intergenerational collaborations to revive dormant cultural knowledge. The fellowship supports her in the research and development of her forthcoming survey exhibition, Re Imagined—Bloodlines, at the National Gallery of Victoria.
The Emerging and Experimental Arts Fellowship was awarded to SJ Norman, whose 2020 durational performance/installation work Magna Mater premiered in NIRIN, the 22nd Biennale of Sydney. Norman’s fearless cross-disciplinary practice, which is internationally renowned, is informed by his experience by a non-binary trans person of Koori heritage.
Sydney-based Arrernte/Kalkadoon emerging artist Thea Anamara Perkins is the recipient of the Dreaming Award; and theatre/film producer Lydia Fairhall, a Woromi woman, has been awarded the Community Arts and Cultural Development Fellowship.
The Awards also acknowledged the many First Nations artists who have received other Australia Council awards in the last year, including NIRIN artistic director Brook Andrew, who received the Australia Council Award for Visual Arts.