Australia’s richest indigenous contemporary art award – the $50,000 Western Australian Indigenous Art Award “ has been won by the Torres Strait’s Ricardo Idagi.

The 53 year old Idagi is a multidisciplinary artist, mask-maker and musician committed to the maintenance and sharing of Meriam cultural law. His work is underscored by a profound belief in the importance of customary art, law, religion and magic, the culmination of many ˜years of listening to grandfathers and uncles telling their stories and singing lamentations of their totems (taum akadar)’.

Idagi’s work reflects the voice of his ancestors and recreates their deeply treasured artefacts. In his words ˜¦my ancestors made masks and ornaments from turtle-shell flakes and shells. I have revisited the tools and materials of my ancestors to recreate their messages and stories.’
Idagi’s monumental masks and headdresses, fashioned from turtle-shell, cut feathers, multiple shells, fibre and bamboo, may be one and a half metres tall, communicating his passionate conviction, maintaining truth to materials and honouring the culture.

The 80 year old Wakartu Cory Surprise from the Mangkaja Arts Resource Agency in Fitzroy Crossing, was named winner of the $10,000 Western Australian Indigenous Artist Award. Like many artists working today in The Kimberley, Surprise was born in the Great Sandy Desert. Due to its limited palette and spare visual vocabulary, her work has been compared to that of Rover Thomas. Her abstract works have boldness, strength and a vivacity of colour contrasts “ mixtures of ochre, from joyous yellows to fiery reds. Surprise knows the law of her country and has seen the places that she depicts, such as jiji, jumu, jila, jiwari and pamarr (sandy hills, soak water, springs, rockholes and rocky hills). But intrinsic to her work is storytelling. Telling the stories of her works through words in later years has resulted in a better understanding of her subject and style, which have grown more powerful and symbolic in her recent paintings.

Also selected for the final exhibition of the WA Award were Tony Albert, Yinarupa Nangala, Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Dennis Nona, Timothy Cook, Tiger Palpatja, Nici Cumpston, Christopher Pease, Gali Yalkarriwuy Gurruwiwi, Shane Pickett, The Spinifex Artists Group (Women’s Collaborative), Brian McKinnon, Doreen Reid Nakamarra and Daniel Walbidi.

The 15 artists and an artists’ group on exhibition were chosen from 213 nominations – a significant increase on the 157 nominations submitted for the inaugural awards last year.
Work exhibited is in a range of media including sculpture, painting and photography “ with three dimensional work particularly well represented: the top prize (Idagi), a Highly Commended (Connelly-Northey) and two other traditional artists (Nona and Gurruwiwi).

Nyoongar painter Christopher Pease of Perth was awarded a Highly Commended certificate in the Western Australian Artists Award category.

The People’s Choice Award of $5,000 will be selected by visitor and on-line ballots during the exhibition “ which runs until 15th November.

The main prizes were handed out by WA Arts Minister, John Day, who also announced that the WA Indigenous Art Awards will be held again next year and then held biennially from 2012 on. Three consecutive years for the Awards allows them to become established, Mr Day said. Holding it every two years after 2010 will help in the longer term to maintain high quality entries from a broader field of artists. We are striving for quality art rather than quantity.
Resources will then be directed towards devising a more supportive environment for the development of indigenous visual arts so that there are more opportunities for new and upcoming artists to build their skills to a more professional level.