Showcasing the best in Australian Indigenous art from contemporary artists, the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) are the longest running and most prestigious Indigenous art awards in Australia. This year, 17 Aboriginal artists from WA have been named as finalists.
Each year the exhibition sees an increasing variety of art forms and media, collectively demonstrating the richness and diversity of current contemporary Indigenous artistic practice, and the pre-eminence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices in Australia’s visual arts scene.
This year, NATSIAA received 238 entries submitted by Indigenous artists from urban areas and remote communities across the nation. With winners announced in August when the exhibition opens at NT’s Museum and Art Gallery, get to know some of WA’s leading Aboriginal artists who have been named as finalists.
Based in Derby, one of the most remote regions of Western Australia, Cecilia Umbagai is only 23 years old and has already established a name for herself as an artist.
“I like using traditional materials to paint my culture. I love how the texture of the bark feels when I paint, and the surface of the bark shows through,” she said, emphasising that it’s the curves and irregularities that make the pieces special.
“Going bush to paint, hunt, fish and camp is important. I get inspiration and it makes me happy.”
Compared to the works of the elders in her community, Cecilia’s work is contemporary because of her different experiences and perspective on life. Alongside painting, she works full time at Mowanjum Art Centre as Studio Coordinator.
Also only 23 years old, IIliam Nargoodah hails from Fitzroy Crossing and upholds the traditional craft of making knives by hand, from the blades to the handle.
His work demonstrates an extraordinary level of skill and mastery. Using found objects and recovered artefacts from the station, Illiam painstakingly crafts the knives into beautiful, yet practical, works of art.
Each knife from his work Lost Blades has been designed for different purposes and created using different techniques. The blades of the Hunting Knives were ground down from found old metal files, while the Cheese Knife was an old saw blade, with a handle made from buffalo horn and wood.
“These knives have been made from found metal objects I collected on station properties near where I live. Sometimes it might be what I find on the ground where I walk. I like making knives for different uses and no two are the same.”
IIliam has been working with Mangkaja Arts since he was young boy, learning alongside his father, an artist who specialises in leatherwork. His dedication and enthusiasm have seen him mastering welding and forging this rare medium, attracting acclaim for reviving this ancient tradition.
Ben is a prominent and widely respected WA artist based in Kununurra, having opened Waringarri Aboriginal Arts in 1987.
Alongside his work as an artist, he has been heavily involved in land rights and community issues of the region, through the Aboriginal Development Commission.
His painting practice focuses on depicting his country and memories of when he was a young man mustering cattle, from his own unique perspective. He employs triangular designs of juxtaposed coloured ochre to depict the rivers, mountains and ranges of his country while also commenting on issues that are close to his heart.
“I was born at Argyle Downs Station at Behn Creek, hence my name, in 1949. My family all worked on the station and we lived there until I was 10. My stepfather, Jeff Chanarma, taught me everything I know. He took me on as his own son,” Ben said.
In 2015 he was the first Indigenous person to win the prestigious John Fries Award for emerging artists and his work is now represented in many important private and public collections.
More WA Finalists
- Annette Lormada
- Bessie Daylight
- Billy Yunkurra Atkins
- Cynthia Burke
- Dallas Smythe
- John Prince Siddon
- Leah Umbagai
- Mabel Juli
- Ngarralja Tommy May
- Peggy Griffiths
- Rosie Tarco King
- Sonia Kurrara
- Timo Hogan
- Yukultji Napangati
Image credits: MAGNT.