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Melbourne artist wins La Prairie Art Award

Melbourne photographer Atong Atem has won the inaugural La Prairie Art Award, with her works to be bought and displayed at the Art Gallery of NSW.

The Ethiopian-born, South Sudanese artist uses portraiture to explore migrant stories.

Her winning work – A Yellow Dress, A Bouquet 2022 – is a series of five self-portrait photographs in which Atem appears in close-up with her face brightly painted.

She describes it as having a “decidedly African, postcolonial aesthetic style” through an emphatic use of colour and texture.

The award aims to champion the work of Australian women artists and is presented by the gallery and Swiss skincare brand La Prairie.

The award hopes to nurture the winner’s art and increase their profile overseas, and the gallery will acquire each winning work for its collection.

As part of the award, Atem will be a VIP guest at the Art Basel international art fair in Zurich.

The senior curator of Australian contemporary art at the Art Gallery of NSW, Isobel Parker Philip, said the hyper-stylised costumes, make-up and ornamentation in Atem’s portraits made a political point.

“For Atem, the face-paint is a symbol of aesthetic alienation and a reaction against the idealisation of whiteness,” she said.

Atem said she was proud to win an award dedicated to contemporary Australian women artists.

“I am thrilled to have this major work acquired by the art gallery.”

Gallery deputy director Maud Page said the award recognised the dynamic and critical work of Australian women artists and underscored the gallery’s commitment to acquiring the work of exceptional women artists.

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