“It’s important to have my work in an exhibition where conversations occur between different sorts of art and artists”.
The National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (the NATSIAAs) at the Museum & Art Gallery of the NT in Darwin until 25th October must be the perfect place for Canberra-based artist, Danie Mellor’s work, then – especially when, after 10 years of appearances, he’s at last won ‘The Big Telstra’ – as the $40,000 top prize is known after its sponsor.
For the variety is mind-boggling – traditionally ochred Pukumani and Morning Star poles and barks, wildly coloured desert canvases, right through to a wacky little woven bilby!
But no multi-media this year in a pre-selection of 93 works that was surprisingly light on urban art
Perhaps this range helps to explain the judges’ emphasis on the unexpected in their five selections for th4 different award categories this year. Liz Ann Macgregor (Director of the MCA in Sydney) and Carly Lane (a Kalkadoon woman now curating in Perth) have shaken up the Awards a little after last year’s politically correct choices by underlining the sheer diversity of contemporary indigenous art.
So Mellor’s winner is a huge complex work on paper, in which the artist is quite deliberately challenging the hierarchy of media which expects such complexity to appear on canvas; the winning bark by Yolgnu woman Rerrkirrwanga Munungurr is so compacted that Macgregor calls it “an absolute jewell”; and the works on paper winner by Glen Namundja from Oenpelli looks like a brilliantly detailed bark.
And the 3-D winner is that bilby – lovingly woven from palm fronds by Noongar artist Janine McAullay Bott in tribute to her great grandmother, whose totem the bilby was.
Only the General Painting Award winner might be called predictable. It’s one of the Big canvases from Papunya Tula artists which are thought most likely to get a hang in the NATSIAAs. At least Yinarupa Nangala’s muted work revealed a wealth of country (reminiscent of recent winner Wentja Napaltjari) rather than offering only op- art techniques.
Danie Mellor, a highly articulate man who identifies closely with his Atherton Tablelands forebears while carrying positively Viking good looks, pays tribute to a formative time in Britain’s Black Country studying the Oriental borrowings of Spode and Wedgewood china for his winning work’s marvellously incongruous juxtaposition of Aboriginal ritual dancers in a mighty blue and white Masonic temple – straight out of The Magic Flute