2017 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards

Japingka Aboriginal Art’s Ian Plunkett reflects on the 34TH TELSTRA National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) This is Australia’s longest running and the most prestigious Indigenous art award. It aims to recognise the important contribution made by Indigenous artists from regional and urban areas throughout Australia. It includes works in traditional and contemporary media.

I go to Darwin every year for the Telstra awards and the Aboriginal Art Fair. I think the 2017 NATSIAA event was quite exceptional, for quite a few different reasons.

I felt that the Telstra Award winners were all deserving of the prizes they achieved. It was one of the most even group of finalists that I’ve ever seen. The quality and originality of the work was wonderful to see.

The winning piece was a really striking political artwork. It was a multimedia collaborative work, Kulata Tjuta – Wati kulunypa tjukurpa (Many spears – Young fella story) by Anwar Young, Unrupa Rhonda Dick and Frank Young.

The artists note read:

“We see many young men from remote communities becoming stuck in a cycle of reoffending and being locked up in juvenile detention centres, like Magill and Don Dale. We are concerned the whitefella way of locking people up isn’t working.”

Frank Young suggests that these young men should be brought back to the country to work with senior men to help look after families and communities. Anwar Young and Unrupa Rhonda Dick, with other young men from Amata have been working with their grandfathers on the Kulata Tjuta project, learning to make kulata (spears) in the traditional way.

This artwork is highly relevant to what’s going on in the country today. It raises issues important issues, and I found it very powerful.

There was also a mixture of more contemporary pieces, as well as the very traditional. Some of the old people are producing exquisite works of art.

There are also new, exciting artists coming through, using more modern media. I think the range and depth of works are what made it a success.

The organisers have gone back to using a more traditional style of event that worked well. The night itself begins with the Award ceremonies. After the Awards are handed out the exhibition is then open for viewing. It was an enjoyable night that was well-attended. I left feeling like that the Telstra Awards has got its mojo back.

If you are in Darwin you can see this exhibition at The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) until 26 November 2017.