I’ve been saying for many a month that Australia’s First Nations artists are more appreciated around the world than they currently are in Oz, and now our provocateur Blak artists, proppaNOW have been accorded high honour in the US.

Launched to recognise the 20th anniversary of the Vera List Center for Art and Politics based at The New School in New York, the Jane Lombard Prize for Art and Social Justice honours an artist or group of artists who has taken great risks to advance social justice in profound and visionary ways. International in scope, the biennial prize is awarded for a particular project’s long-term impact, boldness, and artistic excellence.

The prize initiative unfolds across various platforms and over an extended period of time. It serves as a catalyst for activities that illuminate the important role of the arts in society, and strengthen teaching and learning at The New School in art and design, social science, philosophy, and civic engagement. More than a single moment of recognition, it represents a long-term commitment to the question of how the arts advance social justice, how we speak of, evaluate and teach such work.

An exhibition of the winning project, a conference, integration into classes, and a publication featuring select nominated projects complement a cash award and short-term New York City residency for the honouree.
In gratitude to Jane Lombard, whose generous donations to The Vera List Center make possible the continuation of the aforementioned efforts and initiatives, The Prize for Art and Politics was renamed The Jane Lombard Prize for Art and Social Justice in 2018 following a $5 million gift from the dealer, who currently runs a space in New York’s Chelsea neighbourhood.

“I’m getting older, and the present political moment is so deplorable”, she opined, “not just here in the US, but around the world. Anything anyone can do to make it a more equitable playing field is necessary. It’s a terrible situation, and it’s horribly necessary [to support projects like this].”

Brisbane-based proppaNOW is the recipient of the 2022–2024 Jane Lombard Prize for the show OCCURRENT AFFAIR. Conceived as a collaborative activist gesture, it addressed current socio-political, economic and environmental issues, while celebrating the strength, resilience and continuity of Aboriginal culture.

The selection of proppaNOW was made unanimously by a jury chaired by Simone Leigh, and comprising Carin Kuoni (both American), Cuauhtémoc Medina (from Mexico), the Native Canadian Wanda Nanibush, and Rasha Salti (from Beirut). In their jury citation they comment:
“We are honored to bestow the 2022–2024 Jane Lombard Prize for Art and Social Justice on proppaNOW, the First Nations artist collective from Brisbane, Australia. Founded in 2003 to combat the invisibility of urban Aboriginal contemporary art that addresses the issues of our time, it has broken with expectations of what is proper (‘proppa’) in Aboriginal art; created a new sovereign space for First Nations artists internationally outside colonial stereotypes, desires for authenticity, and capitalist capitulations; and opened new political imaginaries.

Confronting the ongoing presence of settler colonialism, proppaNOW’s work demonstrates the synergy of the struggles for artistic representation and social change. With their center in Brisbane, individual and collaborative artworks, and interventions in public space, they forge ways to share and transfer knowledge to emerging generations. As their work weaves between communal assembly and individual creativity, they offer politically generative practices that can serve as models for political empowerment throughout the world.”

“We are thrilled to honor proppaNOW for work that has changed the paradigms for how we see, learn of, teach, and support Indigenous art throughout the world”

The Prize carries a cash award of US$25,000 and a limited edition artwork commissioned from Yoko Ono. Additionally, the prize is a catalyst for a series of in-depth activities over two years that spawn new scholarship and strengthen teaching and learning opportunities on the role of the arts in advancing social justice.

Runners-up to proppaNOW were the 2022–2024 Jane Lombard Fellows:
Another Roadmap Africa Cluster (Kampala, Nyanza, Lubumbashi, Kinshasa, Maseru, Johannesburg, Lagos, and Cairo)
Colectivo Cherani for Cherani Cultural Center (Cherán, Michoacán, Mexico);
KUNCI Study Forum & Collective for School of Improper Education (Yogyakarta, Indonesia);
and Khalil Rabah for Palestinian Museum of Natural Sciences and Humankind (Ramallah, Palestine)

The inaugural prize was presented in 2012 to Theaster Gates for Dorchester Projects; the second in 2014 to Abounaddara for Emergency Cinema, weekly films documenting contemporary life in Syria; the third in 2016 to Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves for her twenty-year project Seeds of Change, and the fourth to Pan-African collective Chimurenga for their Pan-African Space Station. The fifth recipient was Avni Sethi for Conflictorium, an interactive museum in Ahmedabad, India.

OCCURRENT AFFAIR, the work for which proppaNOW was nominated for the Prize by Tony Albert, was an exhibition featuring new and recent works by the Brisbane-based Aboriginal artist collective – Gordon Hookey, Jennifer Herd, Tony Albert, Megan Cope, Richard Bell, Vernon Ah Kee. Conceived as a collaborative activist gesture, OCCURRENT AFFAIR was seen at the University of Queensland Art Museum in 2021, and an ‘interaction’ of the exhibition will tour Australia from 2023 to 2025.

Locally, there’s a bit of support and recognition for Indigenous artists via the Sidney Myer Creative Fellowships of unrestricted grants of $160,000 tax free over two years. This year, five of the nine recipients are First Nations: Anangu artist Vincent Namatjira, cultural leader, Alethea Beetson, Butchulla Songman Fred Leone, performance artist Carly Sheppard, and Torres Strait story-teller Ghenoa Gela.

Andrew Myer says that while there is certainly significant interest around the fellowships within the Indigenous arts community, the frequency of Indigenous winners speaks to a broader cultural shift. “Indigenous practitioners [are] utterly dedicated to their work, and [are] often not recognised for their outstanding output,” he says. “[Recently] there has been more and more recognition of the absolutely extraordinary calibre of Indigenous artists in all art forms.”

Working out of the remote Aboriginal community of Indulkana in South Australia, Vincent Namatjira believes remote living shouldn’t be a barrier to success. He says the Myer money will allow him to keep working in remote Australia, and will offer an opportunity to be “explosive, bigger and better”. Over the next two years, he wants to be more experimental with his art, do more residencies and have more overseas exhibitions.

And finally an opportunity for First Nations artists working in three dimensions: The McClelland Sculpture Park and Gallery, situated outside Melbourne is calling for expressions of interest from First Nations artists to join a residency program aimed at developing skills and capacity in public art and delivering major creative outcomes.

The Bunurong Fieldwork Residency at McClelland will enable four First Nations artists or artist teams to reside in McClelland’s studio cottage over a period of six to twelve weeks each, developing detailed concept proposals for a permanent site-specific public artwork. While in residence, each artist or team of artists will be supported by McClelland to engage with Bunurong history, culture and community.

McClelland director Lisa Byrne explains, “It is envisioned that one of the four major public artwork proposals will be realised by 2025 with support from public and private sectors to a value of up to $1.5 million, to be fabricated and installed at a culturally significant site on the Peninsula Link freeway on the Mornington Peninsula to mark and celebrate the Bunurong People’s local presence, culture and heritage,”

Expressions of Interest must be received by suzette.wearne@mcclelland.org.au no later than 5pm AEST Wednesday 16 November 2022.