2021 Saltwater Freshwater Aboriginal Art Award Winner

First prize went to an artist whose work resonates with the importance of truth telling for healing & cultural maintenance. 

The 2021 Saltwater Freshwater Aboriginal art award was awarded to Gus Kelly for his work titled NARRA DHALAYI – sad girl. His depiction of an Aboriginal child encompasses echoes of stolen generations, fear & loss represented through his dark & sombre tones. Kelly’s caricature style portraiture effectively captures the crude perception of First Nation people by Australia’s early European settlers. Portraiture is not a common genre within First nations arts, in fact many artists would choose to represent themselves and others, by their association with the natural landscape, song lines, totems and clan iconography. Gus’s portraiture delivers a powerful and confronting statement.

Artist Gus Kelly

There were three highly commended works in this exhibition:

Nicole Duncan’s artwork “Coolamon’ cradle of life which depicts the scar tree/Coolamon dish and the female vulva as a way of connecting women’s business to country & legacy of belonging to the land. The design elements represent carved trees, ceremony & occupancy. The functional uses of the Coolamon including carrying newborn life and is a vessel for carrying & sustaining life which comes from the womb.

Nicole Duncan’s artwork “Coolamon” cradle of life

YOWAs piece titled Dogs dreaming of dogs is a playful reflection on our relationship with animals, in this case domestic ones. Dogs have been our companions throughout time but also have totemic value for some clan groups. YOWA shows strength in her artistic composition with a very contemporary playful style/expression.

YOWAs piece titled Dogs dreaming of dogs

Dance of the new dawn by Danielle Burford uses the dance of the brolga’s as a sign of new times & renewal. Brolga’s as a migratory bird also are a calendar indicator to first nation people and for some a time for ceremony, with dance that celebrates this iconic bird.

Dance of the new dawn by Danielle Burford

“For first nation creatives, creating a work connects them to their heritage, ancestry & lands. It represents the culmination of history and the continuation of story, whether it be though, painting, dance, song, film & crafts. Because health and wellbeing within a First Nation context extends beyond that of an individual, it is important to recognise the social, spiritual, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the entire community is supported through the arts and this biennial art award.”

Alison Williams, curator Saltwater Freshwater Arts 2021