The$50,000 Australia Council National Arts & Disability Award for an established artist this year has gone to Tiwi superstar, Timothy Cook

Timothy Cook is one of Melville Island’s most decorated living artists. His contributions to art making on the islands is reaffirmed by his national and international successes as a painter and spokesperson for the Tiwi people. Coming up through the Ngawa Mantawi (Our Friends) disability support program established at Jilamara Arts and Crafts in the 1990s, Timothy has fulfilled the ambitions of the program in establishing a significant contemporary art career through working at the centre. He continues to redefine the limitless possibilities of working as a professional artist with support needs, carving a pathway for future generations of young Tiwi and first nations people with and without special needs.

In addition to a prolific exhibition history around Australia, New Zealand, North America and Europe, he has also been shown in many major national institutions. These include the 7th Asia Pacific Triennale at QAGoMA in Queensland, the 12th Adelaide Biennale of Art at the South Australian Art Gallery, TIWI: a major retrospective of Tiwi Art at the National Gallery of Victoria, Being Tiwi: a nationally touring exhibition debuted at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, The World is not a Foreign Land at Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne and an upcoming project with the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA).

He has been shortlisted for the Blake Prize, the Wynne Prize, Hadley’s Art Prize, the King and Wood Malleson Contemporary Indigenous Art Prize, the West Australian Premiers Indigenous Art Award and Hazelhurst Works on Paper. In 2020 he received a special commendation and acquisition for the National Works on Paper Award at Mornington Regional Gallery and was the recipient of the ‘Big Telstra’, the top NATSIA Award in 2012.
Timothy’s work is held in many major public and private collections around the world, these include Fondation Opale in Switzerland, the Musee du quai Branly in France, the National Galleries of Australia and Victoria, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Queensland Art Gallery, Western Australian Art Gallery, the Wesfarmers Collection, Artbank and many more.

Alongside many exhibition catalogues and periodical essays, Timothy is also the subject of major publications including Timothy Cook: Dancing with the Moon by Seva Frangos in 2015 and features in Jennifer Isaacs’s encyclopedic ‘TIWI: Art, History, Culture’ in 2012.

In addition to all these career successes, Timothy has become an example – in the remote community of Milikapiti and the Tiwi Islands more broadly – of what can be achieved by a person with diverse support needs. He is celebrated locally for his success around the world and has inspired a new generation of artists working at Jilamara Arts and Crafts who identify as having a disability. These include emerging artists such as Johnathon World Peace Bush and Dino Wilson, as well as more established artists such as Conrad Tipungwuti and Brian Farmer. Apart from painting, he has made many edition prints, textile designs for designer fashion garments and collaborated in major film and photographic projects at the art centre – including ‘YOYI‘ (dance) 2019 an artist-led four-channel projection artwork depicting artists performing their Tiwi totem on Country.

Timothy embodies the visual knowledge of the wulimawi, or as the Tiwi refer to them in English, “the old people”. His ‘Kulama‘ (coming of age yam ceremony) designs embody the visual language of the Tiwi and are part of a living culture that did not have written text prior to colonisation. One of the great successes of Timothy’s artwork is its ability to combine the old and new in a way that celebrates long-standing cultural designs and symbols as contemporary artwork.

Apart from Cook, Sydney-based composer Georgia Scott receives the award for a young artist, having already achieved considerable success within Australia and internationally. She is a strong advocate for gender equity and challenging disability discrimination.

Singer-songwriter Eliza Hull receives the Arts Access Australian National Leadership Award. Eliza is a contemporary musician, audio producer and disability activist based in regional Victoria.