Justine Youssef has won the annual John Fries Award for early career artists from Australia and New Zealand. The Sydney-based artist was awarded the $10,000 prize for her performative video and installation work, Under the table I learnt how to feed you, 2019.
Youssef’s work documents the women in her family as they claim space in a courtyard of a Lebanese bakery. “These women’s actions speak to the invisibility of women in public spaces, positing matrilineal gestures as forms of resilience and resistance in the face of ongoing branding, urban development and gentrification of Western Sydney,” says the artist. “Through methods of social engagement, I connect familial histories and local narratives of undocumented immigrant labour with present politics of gentrification and displacement.”
The 2019 John Fries Award was judged by a panel which included guest curator Miriam Kelly, artist Fiona Foley, UNSW Galleries director José Da Silva, CEO of Studio A Gabrielle Mordy, and artist Kath Fries, daughter of the late John Fries in whose honour the award was established.
These judges selected Youssef from a field of 10 finalists: Madison Bycroft, Betty Chimney and Raylene Walatinna, Dean Cross, David Greenhalgh, Nadia Hernàndez, Jenna Lee, Hayley Millar-Baker, Elena Papanikolakis, Justine Youssef, and The Ryan Sisters.
Miriam Kelly said of Youssef’s winning installation, “The work addresses complex collective contemporary concerns of undocumented migrant labour, cultural continuity, matrilineal learning and gentrification through a sophisticated, carefully nuanced lens. The work is simultaneously a celebration, an homage, a documentation and remembrance.”
South Australian mother and daughter collaborators Betty Chimney and Raylene Walatinna were highly commended for their work Nganmpa Ngura (Our Country).
Works by all 10 finalists are on show until 27 July at UNSW Galleries.