The Australia Council for the Arts is set to celebrate four remarkable artists at the 11th National Indigenous Arts Awards taking place at the Sydney Opera House this weekend. The National Indigenous Arts Awards (NIAAs) recognise the significant contribution of First Nations artists to the vibrancy of Australian arts.

The recipients of the two Red Ochre Awards for Lifetime Achievement will travel from Maningrida in the Northern Territory, and from the Cape York community of Aurukun to join an extraordinary group of alumni including Mick Namarari, Gawirrin Gumana, Hector Burton and Yvonne Koolmatrie – who have been recognised by this award since 1993. A second Red Ochre was added only last year.

So the great Western Arnhemland, Kunwinjku painter and sculptor, John Mawurndjul will share the main Red Ochre honour this year with another fine artist and weaver, Mavis Ngallametta from the Aurukun community on Cape York.

The Dreaming Award (for an emerging artist aged 18-26 years) goes this year to Thomas E.S Kelly, a proud Bundjalung, Wiradjuri and Ni-Vanuatu man. Thomas graduated in 2012 from NAISDA Dance College and has since worked with a variety of dance and theatre companies. His choreographic credits include the Green Room Award-winning work [MIS]CONCEIVE, VESSEL for Outer Urban Projects, and in 2017, Thomas created Karul Projects, a new company led by Indigenous voices to tell new stories.

The 2018 Australia Council Fellowship for established artists, supporting their creative activity and professional development for up to two years goes to one of the busiest Indigenous curators around, Hetti Perkins, once at the Art Gallery of NSW. She was recently co-chair of the advisory group that drew up the base case for a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Gallery in Alice Springs. Perkins has not yet announced what major creative project she’ll undertake for her Fellowship.

John Mawurndjul “ who will open a two-year-long tour of a solo exhibition of his art at the Museum of Contemporary Art in July “ has received worldwide recognition for his work. He was born in 1952 near Mumeka, an important ceremonial site for members of the Kurulk clan on the Mann River some 50 km south of Maningrida. He grew up with only sporadic contact with balandas (non-Aboriginal people), and in the late 1970s, he was tutored in painting by his elder brother Jimmy Njiminjuma and his uncle, Peter Marralwanga, who showed him how to use rarrk cross-hatching in new and innovative ways.

In 1988 he won the Award for Best Painting in Traditional Media at the National Aboriginal Art Awards (now the NATSIAAs) and in 1991 Gabrielle Pizzi Gallery held his first solo show in Melbourne. Also in the 90s, his work was included in major overseas exhibitions such as Dreamings in New York (1988), Crossroads in Japan (1992), Aratjara: Art of the first Australians, Germany and UK (1993-94) and In the heart of Arnhem Land in France (2001).

He won the prestigious Clemenger Contemporary Art Prize in 2003. In 2004, his work was included in the landmark survey exhibition Crossing Country, the Alchemy of Western Arnhem Land held at the AGNSW. In 2005, thanks to the promotional skills of his art centre Director, Apolline Kohen, Mawurndjul was honoured with a major retrospective of his work at the Musee Jean Tinguely in Basel Switzerland. In 2006 he worked on a large scale commission for eight Aboriginal artists at the new Musee du Quai Branly in Paris which has become an integral part of the architecture.

Mrs Mavis Ngallametta was born in the coastal country of the Kugu people around the Kendall River, south of Aurukun on the Cape York Peninsula. She is a senior elder of the Putch Clan and a cultural leader of the Wik and Kugu People of Aurukun.

As a young girl, Mavis was taught by her elders in the traditional methods of weaving and basketry using cabbage palm and pandanus. She grew up in missionary dormitories but was able to maintain close links with her family and continues to teach children the traditional crafts today, also travelling throughout Australia introducing traditional weaving to adults and children, performing traditional dance and song and exhibiting her paintings. Ngallametta’s weaving is renowned for its dramatic use of colour and asymmetrical designs and is held in many private collections throughout the world.

She started to paint in 2008 during a workshop at the Wik and Kugu Arts and Craft Centre facilitated by Gina Allain and has developed her own original, highly detailed style, depicting imagery based on community life and Country. Mavis was the winner of the 2013 NATSIA General Painting Award. In her artist’s statement, Mavis says; It is important for the young ones to learn traditional ways. While they are young they can learn. It is important to keep our culture strong.

Chair of the Council’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy Panel, Wesley Enoch “ who will also MC the Awards ceremony at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday – said that he and the Panel were delighted to be able to recognise these exceptional artists.