Remote Top End artist wins top honours at Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards

Published by: Lucy Lee (Team WPPAUNZ) | 11-Aug-2018
An unconventional artist, Gunybi Ganambarr, from the remote community of Gan Gan in East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory has won the overall prize - the prestigious Telstra Art Award - at the 2018 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA).
Ganambarr's work, Buyku, is a stunningly intricate etching on three-by-three metre aluminium board. It was selected as the overall winner at the 35th Telstra NATSIAA from more than 300 entries and 66 finalists.

The directions and flow of the forms in Buyku, although initially similar in design, are said to represent multiple grandfathers (Mari) from the one Dhalwangu clan. The arms come together to form a Buyku (fish trap) as seen in the ceremony performed by Yirritja ancestors. The waters from Gadarrpa (Blue Mud Bay) to Gulutji come together to form a family connection.

The winning work was selected by an experienced judging panel assembled by the Telstra NATSIAA exhibition curator, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Terrirtory (MAGNT). The panel comprised Kelly Gellatly, Director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne; Glenn Iseger- Pilkington, independent curator and art consultant; and Judith Inkamala, artist and senior member of the Hermannsburg Potters.

The judges described Buyku by Gunybi Ganambarr as a commanding and powerful work, which illustrates the artist's deep knowledge of culture and ceremony. Ganambarr's command of materials and processes have resulted in a work that actively engages the viewer physically, intellectually and emotionally. Buyku speaks to the coming together of the Dhalwangu clan for fish trap ceremonies and how these ceremonies unite Yolŋu. The work honours Ganambarr's forebearers, specifically his Dhalwangu mari or grandfathers, who are represented through a weave of etched forms depicting water and fish traps. Buyku speaks to the attainment of cultural knowledge over time and the artist's own journey, which he generously shares through his brave and exacting practice.

MAGNT Director Marcus Schutenko said: "The quality of the art works in this year's awards are the strongest I have seen. The layout of the gallery has been designed in a completely new way to complement the diversity of forms in the exhibition. I expect audiences will feel a significant sense of discovery when they come to the 35th Telstra NATSIAA."

Telstra Chief Executive Officer Andrew Penn said: "Telstra is incredibly proud to support the awards and to celebrate and showcase the richness and diversity of indigenous art and the talent of the artists themselves. The quality and scope of the work this year is again superb and underlines the growing importance of this globally significant artistic celebration."

In addition to the $50,000 Telstra Art Award prize, the 2018 Telstra NATSIAA comprise six categories across multiple art disciplines and a diverse range of entries.

Telstra General Painting Award

Peter Mungkuri, Indulkana, SA
Ngura (Country)

Peter's paintings are loaded with an energy and movement. His powerful paintings quietly shimmer with romanticism and a reverence for country. The repetitious depiction of sweeping paths link loosely together, connecting a myriad of softly dotted rings, evoking a landscape enigmatic with hidden water holes. Tender yet resolutely constructed trees spring up between the interlocking rolls of a mountain range, hinting towards the corrugations of a dynamic sand swept desert.

Mungkuri said: "This is my drawing about my country. This land is my home, it's where it all started. I've got good knowledge of horses, stockmen, and the country. These things, everything, is my memory "“ my knowledge. I like painting my country, I like to paint the memories of my country."

Telstra Works on Paper Award

Kathy Inkamala, Mparntwe (Alice Springs), NT
Mount Gillen, Western MacDonnell Ranges
Kathy Ngala Inkamala began painting in the Hermannsburg School Watercolour tradition of her Western Aranda family in 2015. Her distinct style is characterised by a tightly illustrative approach to mark-making, repetitive line work and a highly saturated use of colour. Her insightful and considered artworks are a strong chapter in the 90 year old tradition of watercolour painting that began in Ntaria in the mid-1930's by Kathy's great-uncle, Albert Namatjira.

Telstra Bark Painting Award

Napuwarri Marawili, Yilpara, NT
Baraltja Dugong Yathikpa
Napuwarri honed his artistic practice under the tutelage of his father, the great artist Bakulaŋay Marawili. He is an adaptable man with a versatile range of artistic skills. As well as dancing and singing in ceremony he sculpts and makes prints. His winning work is an evocative piece representing an ancestral journey, in which a hunting party took to the sea in pursuit of Dugong. The hunters were lured close t o a dangerous rock where the dugong feed on Gamata, a sea grass that is a manifestation of flames on the sea bed. Wavy ribbons of sea grass sway in the sunlit water as depicted in the work. These events are commemorated today through Yirritja ceremony.

Wandjuk Marika Memorial 3D Award (sponsored by Telstra)

Wukun Wanambi, Yirrkala, NT
Wukun is a previous NATSIAA Award winner, having been awarded the 1998 Bark Painting award and a Highly Commended in the 3D category for his sculptured larrakitj in 2003.

His 2018 winning entry evokes the turbulent waters of Gurkawuy River conflicting and clashing with the incoming tidal waters near Trial Bay. The fish depicted jump the trap' created by the submerged rocks in the same way that the soul slips its earthly bonds. These fish travel from river to river, ocean to ocean, looking for their destiny. The water is called Gudutja and they are looking for their destiny, just like you and I tracing our family tree on a computer, looking for our great, great grandfathers and grandmothers.

Telstra Multimedia Award

Patrina Liyadurrkitj Mununggurr, Yirrkala, NT
Dhunupakum nhuna wanda (Straightening your mind)
This film shows the artist painting her forehead with gapan (white clay), which YolÅ‹u use on their face and body for ceremonial purposes. Patrina has described the significance of this: "My people, the Djapu people, sing the cloud song. This songline tells YolÅ‹u to paint themselves with gapa ṉ. The old people sing this ancient songline to ask YolÅ‹u to paint themselves with gapaṉ before they start performing buÅ‹gul (ceremonial dance)."

Telstra Emerging Artist Award

Matthew Dhamuliya Gurriwiwi, Warruwi, NT
Banumbirr (Morning Star poles)
Banumbirr, or Morning Star Poles, are ceremonial poles belonging to the Galpu clan of Arnhem Land. Made using soft local wood, natural earth pigments, arrangements of feathers, bush wax and handmade bush string, they are traditionally used for mortuary (funeral) ceremonies. Matthew says of his work "I was born and raised to be an artist and I see it as my job to carry on the traditional art making for the Galpu clan. Making Banumbirr has been passed on to me and it is important I keep doing it and keep my culture strong."

All category winners receive $5,000. Award winners will be announced at the opening ceremony at MAGNT from 6pm on Friday 10 August.

Telstra NATSIAA finalists' works will be exhibited at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin from Friday 10 August, after the evening awards ceremony, until Sunday 11 November 2018.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists were invited to submit one original work that has not been previously exhibited or made available for sale. All awards are non-acquisitive and entrants are eligible to win one award.

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