An innovative large-scale etching has won the top honour at the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Awards.
Gunybi Ganambarr was awarded the $50,000 prize for his work Buyku 2018, an etching on a 3m x 3m aluminium board.
The winning work by the Yolngu artist from the remote community of Gangan in East Arnhem Land was chosen from more than 300 entries and 66 finalists.
The established artist is no stranger to having his work recognised. In 2011, Ganambarr was the recipient of the $50,000 Western Australian Indigenous Art Award, but is humble about his latest accolade, describing it as “exciting and encouraging”.
Taught by his elders who painted on bark, the unconventional artist blends modern technique and materials with tradition.
The sculptor, painter, engraver and carver has used a galvanised-iron water tank and PVC piping in previous works and describes his art as a “pathway from the old into the new”.
“What I’m doing is from the land — it is already there,” Ganambarr says. “New is from the old story, same story but a different kind of style or skills.” The former house builder and renovator likes to use power tools in his works including angle grinders but created Buyku using a Dremel to etch on to the aluminium.
The directions and flow of his winning artwork “represent multiple grandfathers (Mari) from the Dhalwangu clan.
The arms come together to form Buyku (fish trap), as seen in the ceremony performed by the Yirritja ancestors.
The water from Gadarrpa (Blue Mud Bay) to Gulutji come together to form a family connection.
The judges described the work as commanding and powerful and an illustration of the artist’s deep knowledge of culture and ceremony, which engages the viewer physically, intellectually and emotionally.
“The quality of the artworks in this year’s awards are the strongest I’ve ever seen,” says Marcus Schutenko, the director of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, where the works are on display.
Winners of the other six categories at the 35th NATSIAA include Peter Mungkuri, from Indulkana, South Australia, who won the general painting award for Ngura (Country); an ink and synthetic polymer paint on linen.
“This is my drawing about my country,” Mungkuri says. “This land is my home; it’s where it all started.” Kathy Inkamala, from Mparntwe, Northern Territory, won the works on paper award for Mount Gillen, Western MacDonnell Ranges.
The pigment ink and gouache on Arches paper work depicts the changing colours of the mountains.
The bark painting prize was awarded to Napuwarri Marawili, from Yilpara, NT, for Baraltja Dugong Yathikpa, created from natural pigments on Stringybark.
The work represents an ancestral journey in which a hunting party took to sea in pursuit of a dugong.
The Wandjuk Marika 3D award was won by Wukun Wanambi from Yirrkala, NT — his third NATSIAA award.
Wanambi’s work Destiny was created from natural pigment on Stringybark poles and is accompanied by video.
The installation evokes the turbulent waters of Gurkawuy River colliding with the incoming tidal water of Trial Bay.
Patrina Liyadurrkitji Mununggurr, also from Yirrkala, was the recipient of the multimedia award for Dhunupa ‘kum nhuna wanda (Straightening your mind).
The film shows her painting her forehead with gapan (white clay), which Yolnju use on their face and body for ceremonial purposes.
The emerging artist award was won by Matthew Dhamuliya Gurruwiwi, from Warruwi, NT, for Banumbirr (Morning Star Poles).
The poles, traditionally used for funeral ceremonies and belonging to the Galpu Clan of Arnhem Land, were made from local wood, earth pigments, feathers, bush wax and handmade bush string.
NATSIAA is at MAGNT until November 11.
Annelies Gartner travelled to Darwin as a guest of Telstra and the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.