The annual awards celebrating the unique artistry and contributions of exceptional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists will be presented tonight at a ceremony at the Sydney Opera House.  These prestigious awards consist of the Red Ochre, a Fellowship and the Dreaming Award.

This year the Red Ochre, Australia’s most esteemed peer-assessed award for an Indigenous artist, will be presented to renowned Ngarrindjeri weaver, Yvonne Koolmatrie, star of last year’s Taranathi Festival in Adelaide.  Awarded since 1993, the $50,000 prize acknowledges an artist’s outstanding lifetime achievement in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts at a national and international level.

Interdisciplinary artist, consultant and community cultural development teacher Vicki Couzens from Victoria will receive this year’s Fellowship, providing $40,000 a year for two years to create a major project.

The Dreaming Award provides $20,000 to an artist aged 18-26 to create a major body of work through mentoring or partnerships.  It will be awarded to Nowra-based lyricist, rapper, composer and producer Nooky aka Corey Webster.

Australia Council Aboriginal Arts Board Director, Lee-Ann Buckskin said Yvonne Koolmatrie was chosen as this year’s Red Ochre Award recipient for her pioneering work in preserving the ancient art form of Ngarrindjeri weaving. Yvonne Koolmatrie’s life was changed when she attended a workshop led by the late Ngarrindjeri Elder, Aunty Dorothy Kartinyeri on the traditional ˜basic’ stitch weaving of native sedge, which grows throughout the Coorong, Ms Buckskin said. Her determination to ensure Ngarrindjeri weaving did not become a lost art has resulted in her work being elevated to the world stage, including representing Australia at the 1997 Venice Biennale, alongside fellow Indigenous artists, the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Judy Watson.

A comprehensive survey of Yvonne’s work was a highlight exhibition within TARNANTHI: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2015-2016. Riverland: Yvonne Koolmatrie celebrated the 30-year career of this significant Ngarrindjeri artist and was curated by Hetti Perkins, Jonathan Jones and Nici Cumpston in close consultation with the artist. Yvonne’s belief Ngarrindjeri weaving should be passed down to the next generation to preserve Ngarrindjeri culture, has seen her mentor many young artists and share the stories of the Riverland and her people.

Ms Buckskin said Vicki Couzens was another Indigenous woman working to preserve Aboriginal culture and stories for future generations, most notably through her work making possum cloaks. Vicki Couzens uses various mediums including printmaking, painting, public art, weaving and possum-skin cloaks to tell stories of Country, people, family. Story is how her culture is passed on to the next generations and how culture is maintained, Ms Buckskin said. She began cloak-making in 1999 and became a leader in this field.  This led to her role as Artistic Director of the 2006 Commonwealth Games Possum Cloak Project in Melbourne, working with 35 communities across Victoria.

Vicki’s two-year fellowship project, yunggama (to give and receive) will contain four elements: soundscape, comprising song and spoken word in her language; projection, comprising dance and movement; made cultural objects, such as possum cloaks, weavings and tools; and an illustrated anthology of her writings. She hopes the project will strengthen and continue cultural knowledge, story and practice, with a particular emphasis on ˜women’s business’, for the younger generations and the future, especially for her five daughters and their families.

Ms Buckskin said this year’s Dreaming Award winner, Nooky, was a multi-talented artist who was fast becoming a leader to Yuin kids from his Country in Nowra and other young Indigenous people. Nooky’s foray into the arts began when he learned Aboriginal dance from his uncles when he was at school in Nowra, which led to him being part of a group chosen to perform at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. Since then he has written music and soundscapes for theatre, TV and film, but his first love is hip hop, Ms Buckskin said. Nooky began his hip hop career not long after leaving school after receiving encouragement from his cousin to channel his experiences of being a young Indigenous man into songwriting and music. Nooky’s Dreaming Award project will see him record an album and produce two video clips under the mentorship of leading Indigenous hip hop artists Briggs, Trials and Jimblah.

The National Indigenous Arts Awards were established by the Australia Council’s former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board, consisting of leading Indigenous artists, curators and arts managers, to recognise the outstanding work and achievements of their fellow artists.  The awards are decided by a national panel of Indigenous arts peers from each state and territory, including the Torres Strait.

The top award, the Red Ochre has been awarded since 1993 to an outstanding Aboriginal or Torres Strait artist for lifetime achievement. The Dreaming Award, for a young Indigenous artist, was first awarded in 2012 to playwright Nakkiah Lui.  Photographer Rhonda Dick received the award in 2013, multimedia artist Tyrone Sheather in 2014, and singer/songwriter Kahl Wallis in 2015.

The 2015 awards tonight will be hosted by Sydney Festival Artistic Director, Wesley Enoch.
The wide range of Indigenous talents rewarded is apparent from this list of Red Ochre Award recipients since 1993
1993 Eva Johnson
1994 Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri
1995 Rita Mills
1996 Maureen Watson
1997 Jimmy Chi
1998 Bob Maza
1999 Justine Saunders
2000 Mervyn Bishop
2001 Banduk Marika
2002 Dorothy Peters
2003 Jimmy Little
2004 John Bulunbulun
2005 Seaman Dan
2006 Tom E Lewis
2008 Doris Pilkington Garimara
2009 Gawirrin Gumana
2010 Michael Leslie
2011 Archie Roach
2012 Warren H Williams
2013 David Gulpilil
2014 Hector Burton
2015 Dr Gary Foley