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Timothy Cook


Recipient of the 2021 Australia Council National Arts and Disability Award for Established Artist

“Japarra is the moon – it also means Moonman. He is important to the Tiwi people, they know. Japalinga means stars.

I like painting for culture way – Kulama – that means painting culture. We teach culture. Kulama also mean yam – they eat that one, they get it from the ground and eat it. Kulama is ceremony where they yoi [dance].

I paint Japarra, Kulama and Japalinga.

I will take a painting to heaven so my mother will recognise me.” – Timothy Cook

Timothy Cook is one of the Tiwi Islands 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 original 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 disability.

In addition to a prolific exhibition history around Australia, New Zealand, North America and Europe, he has also been curated in many major national outcomes. These include the 7th Asia Pacific Triennale at QAGoMA in Queensland, the 12th Adelaide Biennale of Art at the South Australian Art Gallery (SAAG), 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 29th Telstra 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, Aboriginal Art Museum in the Netherlands, Musee du Quai Branly in France, the National Gallery 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 Jennifer Isaacs 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 Tiwis 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 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. As an artist, he is completely adaptable and sets an amazing example for these other artists. Alongside painting he has made many edition prints, textile designs for designer fashion garments and collaborated in major film and photographic projects here 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 commensurate the old and new in a way that celebrates long-standing cultural designs and symbols as contemporary artwork.

Learn more about the 2021 Australia Council Awards.