West Australian Noongar artist, Lori Pensini has celebrated a breakthrough win in the prestigious Newcastle Art Gallery portrait prize with an intimate reflection on inter-racial relationships and her own family lineage.

The $50,000 prize has been offered since 2006, encouraging innovation within portrait and figurative painting. The Kilgour Prize 2021 judges considering the 29 finalists were ​Lauretta Morton, Director Newcastle Art Gallery; Adam Porter, Head of Curatorial, Campbelltown Arts Centre; and David Trout, Visual Artist, Head Teacher Fine Art, Newcastle Art School.

Pensini is a three times finalist in the Prize and, last year, took out the People’s Choice prize.

Pensini’s comments on her win were: “These portraits are a continuum for myself and my art practice exploring the Indigenous lineage to my ancestry. They are painted on family heirloom fine bone china English plates and are a tribute to the inter-racial relationships of my colonial fore-bearers and the First People’s of the south west of Western Australia. Each plate is unique to itself, honouring individual endeavours and fortitude. Collectively they embody the sense of ‘family’, of intimate bonds forged and the endurance of fervent relationships that defied racial vilification of the times. The deliberation of painting on fine bone china English plates represents the fragility of our bonds and cultural identity and delicately betrays the ruinous heavy hand of European colonisation both towards Indigenous peoples and the Australian landscape”.

At the online prize-giving ceremony, judge Morton commented that Pensini’s work was in the top three for all the judges and she herself was pleased to award a rare positive post-colonial work. Which naturally raises comparisons with the work of an artist like Tony Albert, whose superficially similar use of First Nations imagery on plates tends to the mocking and the negative.

Lori Pensini was able to justify, “I’m proud of our family story, standing up against prejudice. Mind you, Mum’s not so pleased about my defacing her china!”. She added: “COVID has had the benefit of allowing me to explore in depth who I am. It’s been good that it’s just been me and the cows on our farm”. That farm, by the way is Blackwood Valley Beef at Boyup Brook.

While we’re on the subject of prizes, I note a specifically Indigenous international photography prize being offered by the World Intellectual Property Organisation, based in Geneva.

Their challenge is to make an original photograph on the theme of ‘Climate Change and Climate Action: Mother Earth through our Lenses’ and support it with a brief description or short video on how the photograph relates to and expresses your feelings about the theme. Attach a title as well as a brief personal profile on yourself and on the Indigenous people or local community to which you belong, including the way(s) in which you are involved in your community.

Awards range from photography equipment and related software licenses to training and mentoring opportunities. And submissions need to in by January 22, 2022 through the online submission platform.

Url: 2021https://nag.org.au/exhibitions/current/kilgour-prize-2021