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natsiaa winners 2015

The 2015 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award

Mrs Snell

Telstra Art Award - $50,000

7 August -  

1 November 2015

The Board, staff and Foundation of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory were deeply saddened to hear of the passing of senior Wangkajunga elder Mrs Snell. Mrs Snell was the winner of the 2015 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. We pass on our sincere condolences to her family who are in our thoughts during this difficult time.  While in Darwin to accept her award, Mrs Snell touched us all with her strength and presence. We were delighted that she was able to make the long journey to Darwin with her family to accept the award.


Mrs Snell was born at the sacred site of Kurtal (Helena Springs), a place of living water in the Great Sandy Desert. Kurtal was the subject of her winning painting which is now a proud part of the Telstra Collection at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.


Western Australian artist Mrs Snell is the winner of Australia’s most prestigious Indigenous art prize for 2015. Mrs Snell’s work Kurtal was selected as the overall winner of the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award (NATSIAA) from more than 290 entries and 65 finalists.


Born in 1933 at Kurtal in the Great Sandy Desert, Mrs Snell has been painting since the mid-1980s. She first exhibited in 1991 and had her first solo show in Darwin in 2014.


Kurtal depicts Mrs Snell’s country, its spirits and stories. The black and yellow depicts body paint used when dancing for rain. The white stripes represent the small rainclouds that appear in the sky before rain.


“That’s my Kurtal, now! As long as I’ve been born there. That one, Kurtal. Not from another jila, no! One jila," she said.


The winning work was selected by a judging panel consisting of; Tony Ellwood, Director of the National Gallery of Victoria; Cara Pinchbeck, Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales; and Western Australian painter Daniel Walbidi, the 2014 winner of the Telstra General Painting Award.


The judging panel said “portrayals of water stories are common to desert artists. In this instance Mrs Snell has depicted her water story with powerful gestural marks and strong and vibrant colour.”

Judge's Comments


Mrs. Snell’s Kurtal is a powerful rendition of her husband’s traditional land and stories from the Great Sandy Desert. Common to desert artists are portrayals of water stories, in this instance Mrs. Snell has depicted this with powerful gestural marks.  Strong and vibrant colour has also been employed alongside watery translucent passages. Adding to the impact of this work is its imposing scale. 

Betty Kuntiwa Pumani

Telstra General Painting Award - $5,000

Betty Kuntiwa Pumani, Antara (Maku Dreaming), Acrylic on linen, 2015

Betty Kuntiwa Pumani from Mimili Community in South Australia. Betty was born in the bush near Perentie Bore about 30 kilometres from Mimili Community. Her mother is Kunmanara (Milatjari) Pumani and her father is Sam Pumani. Sam’s country is near Watarru on the APY Lands. Betty’s grandparents on Milatjari’s side are King Everard (Nyapi) and her grandmother was Mantjangka Everard. Betty has three brothers Ken, Luey, Apada and a sister Ngupulya and they all live in Mimili. Betty is married to Litja Brown from Mimili and they have two children together, Marina and Max. Betty worked at the Mimili store then at the Mimili clinic as a ngangkari healer. Later she was a teacher at Mimili Anangu School and she began painting at Mimili Maku Art Centre in 2007. Betty’s paintings depict her mother’s country Antara, a ceremonial site in north-west of Mimili.


Judge's Comments


The intricacy of the mark making in this work is very commanding. Betty has a unique way of mapping out detail and the introduction of white sections creates a bold and high contrast composition. 

Nonggirrnga Marawili

Telstra Bark Painting Award - $5,000

Nonggirrnga Marawili works and lives in Yirrkala in the Northern Territory. This work shows the sanctifying words being spat across the sky in lightning form. The lightning’s sacred power hits the sea spray rising from where it has just smashed into the rock. The energies captured in this painting are almost a match for those in the real life of a Top End wet season.


Judge's Comments


This work has a powerful presence with an imposing scale. The surface quality has a strong contrast which includes the luminous black background and matt white central forms depicting rocks and lightning. There is a confidence in the overall simplicity and use of negative space.

Nonggirrnga Marawili, Lightning in the Rock, Natural ochres on eucalyptus bark, 2015

Robert Fielding

Telstra Work on Paper Award - $5,000

Robert Fielding, Milkali Kutju, Screenprint on fine art paper, edition of 5, 2015

Robert is a multidisciplinary artist working in Mimili, a remote Aboriginal community in South Australia. He is predominantly a painter, however has begun exploring new mediums such as photography, print making and new media.


In his latest work, Robert has been exploring the concept of Milkali Kutju – which means ‘One Blood’ in Pitjantjatjara. Robert experienced a high level of racism growing up in Port Augusta. As a young father, Robert made the decision to travel with his young family back to his family’s country in the APY Lands. He has spent the last 20 years in Mimili and has learnt traditional language and lore and culture. He is respected within his community.


In Anangu culture the word Milkali blood is a very sensitive word and can be used offensively but in this work Milkali kutju means one blood, it is about Indigenous and non Indigenous working long side one another and learning and sharing two different cultures ngapartji - ngapartji 50-50. It doesn't matter what colour or race we are, its about what's below the surface Milkali blood. We can learn from one another, and by moving forward by closing the gaps and not blaming one another for our for fathers actions whether they were good or bad choices.


The statement in this work – ‘You See Black, I See Red’ is deliberately provocative at first glance, however just as Robert has over time learnt to forgive, so too does the viewer, as they realise the sentiment behind this work is forgiveness not anger. When Robert says – ‘I See Red’ he does not mean the anger and fire he would have exploded with as a young man when faced with racism. He now means ‘I See Red’ as ‘One blood’, forget the colour of our skin, it is all the same colour underneath. 


Judge's Comments


This work has incorporated various processes, including the painted background, photographic self portrait and use of graphics, to produce a strong statement about cultural identity.  The work directly talks about racism and the politics of ‘blood’.  

Rhonda Sharpe

Wandjuk Marika 3D Memorial Award (sponsored by Telstra) - $5,000

Rhonda Sharpe was born and grew up in Alice Springs. Previously Rhonda has made necklaces and produced some paintings. However more recently she has discovered an interest and passion for making soft sculptures and print making. Rhonda has found that the art room gives her a place to be safe and to make a better future for herself. Rhonda says that sewing makes her feel happy and that she is proud of the work she creates. Rhonda's sculptures create stories that weave together the here and now, the past and the ever hopeful future.


About her work, Rhoda says "that’s me - really I only have one head, but sometimes I think it’s two heads sitting on my shoulders," she said.


"One head happy, the other head tells me… go to town and drink! When I drink I’m happy then lonely. I wake up, clean my house and try to find that other head that keeps me happy."


Judge's Comments


While seemingly playful, this is an extremely brave and honest work that talks about personal conflict. The multiple faces highlight her dilemma. This soft sculpture incorporates a strong use of pattern and colour.

Rhonda Sharpe, Rhonda, Recycled naturally dyed blankets, embellished with wool, cotton, feathers, 2015

Josh Muir

Telstra Youth Award - $5,000

Josh Muir, Buninyong, Digital print on aluminium, 2015

Josh Muir is from Ballarat in Victoria. A young visual artist, Josh has heritage from Gunditjamara / Yorta Yorta. Josh is passionate and his art reflects a positive style with influence from contemporary street art, a modern way of expressing stories through vibrant work.


Josh took to contemporary street art as a kid, inspired by the colour contrasts and it’s place in the public arena for everyone to enjoy.


Being Aboriginal has given him a strong connection to his culture and creativity has always run through his veins.


He says his winning work captures a history of Buninyong, a town located 11 kilometres outside of Ballarat. Displaying a diverse knowledge of the activities and significance that this town-ship experienced.


Judge's Comments


This work conveys a confident graphic quality that borrows its style from both street and popular culture. Josh is a bold colourist and with a unique perspective.

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Check out the work of all finalists in the 2015 Telstra NATSIAA

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