Outstanding achievement in Indigenous arts will be celebrated tonight at the Australia Council’s Ninth National Indigenous Arts Awards.
The annual awards celebrate the unique artistry and contributions of exceptional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, and will be presented on Friday, 27 May at a ceremony at the Sydney Opera House. These prestigious national awards consist of the Red Ochre, a Fellowship and the Dreaming Award.
This year the Red Ochre, Australia’s most esteemed peer-assessed award for an Indigenous artist, will be presented to world renowned Ngarrindjeri weaver Yvonne Koolmatrie (SA). Awarded since 1993, the $50,000 prize acknowledges an artist’s outstanding contribution to and lifetime achievement in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts at a national and international level.
Interdisciplinary artist, consultant and community cultural development teacher Vicki Couzens (Vic) will receive this year’s Fellowship, providing $40,000 a year for two years to create a major project.
The Dreaming Award provides $20,000 to an artist aged 18-26 to create a major body of work through mentoring or partnerships. It will be awarded to lyricist, rapper, composer and producer Nooky (Corey Webster) (NSW).
Australia Council Chair Rupert Myer AO said he looked forward each year to paying tribute to eminent Indigenous artists through the awards, which are the highest acknowledgement an Australian Indigenous artist can achieve for their artistic achievements.
“The awards put a spotlight on the significant contribution Indigenous artists make to the artistic vibrancy and cultural life of Australia. They encourage us to experience, appreciate and learn about the diverse cultures and ancient stories of our First Peoples through the broad range of work created by Indigenous artists across Australia,” Mr Myer said.
Australia Council Board Director Lee-Ann Buckskin said Yvonne Koolmatrie was chosen as this year’s Red Ochre Award recipient for her pioneering work in preserving the ancient art form of Ngarrindjeri weaving.
“Yvonne Koolmatrie’s life was changed when she attended a workshop led by the late Ngarrindjeri Elder Aunty Dorothy Kartinyeri on the traditional ‘basic’ stitch weaving of native sedge, which grows throughout the Coorong,” Ms Buckskin said.
“Her determination to ensure Ngarrindjeri weaving did not become a lost art has resulted in her work being elevated to the world stage, including representing Australia at the 1997 Venice Biennale, alongside fellow Indigenous artists Judy Watson and the late Emily Kame Kngwarreye.
“A comprehensive survey of Yvonne’s work was a highlight exhibition within TARNANTHI: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2015-2016. Riverland: Yvonne Koolmatrie celebrated the 30-year career of this significant Ngarrindjeri artist and was curated by Hetti Perkins, Jonathan Jones and Nici Cumpston in close consultation with the artist.
“Yvonne’s belief Ngarrindjeri weaving should be passed down to the next generation to preserve Ngarrindjeri culture, has seen her mentor many young artists and share the stories of the Riverland and her people.”
Ms Buckskin said Vicki Couzens was another Indigenous woman working to preserve Aboriginal culture and stories for future generations, most notably through her work making possum cloaks.
“Vicki Couzens uses various mediums, including printmaking, painting, public art, weaving and possum cloaks, to tell stories of place, Country, people, family. Story is how her culture is passed on to the next generations and how culture is maintained,” Ms Buckskin said.
“She began cloak-making in 1999 and became a leader in this field. This led to her role as Artistic Director of the 2006 Commonwealth Games Possum Cloak Project in Melbourne, working with 35 communities across Victoria.
“Vicki’s two-year fellowship project, yunggama (to give and receive) will contain four elements: soundscape, comprising song and spoken word in her language; projection, comprising dance and movement; made cultural objects, such as possum cloaks, weavings and tools; and an illustrated anthology of her writings.
“She hopes the project will strengthen and continue cultural knowledge, story and practice, with a particular emphasis on ‘women’s business’, for the younger generations and the future, especially for her five daughters and their families.”
Ms Buckskin said this year’s Dreaming Award winner, Nooky, was a multi-talented artist who was fast becoming a future leader to Yuin kids from his Country in Nowra and other young Indigenous people.
“Nooky’s foray into the arts began when he learned Aboriginal dance from his uncles when he was at school in Nowra, which led to him being part of a group chosen to perform at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games Opening Ceremony. Since then he has written music and soundscapes for theatre, TV and film, but his first love is hip hop,” Ms Buckskin said.
“Nooky began his hip hop career not long after leaving school after receiving encouragement from his cousin to channel his experiences of being a young Indigenous man into songwriting and music.
“Nooky’s Dreaming Award project will see him record an album and produce two video clips under the mentorship of leading Indigenous hip hop artists Briggs, Trials and Jimblah.”
ABOUT THE AWARDS
The National Indigenous Arts Awards were established by the Australia Council’s former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board, consisting of leading Indigenous artists, curators and arts managers, to recognise the outstanding work and achievements of their fellow artists. The awards are decided by a national panel of Indigenous arts peers from each state and territory, including the Torres Strait.
The prestigious Red Ochre Award has been awarded since 1993 to an outstanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait artist for lifetime achievement. The Dreaming Award, for a young Indigenous artist, was first awarded in 2012 to playwright Nakkiah Lui. Photographer Rhonda Dick received the award in 2013, multimedia artist Tyrone Sheather in 2014, and singer/songwriter Kahl Wallis in 2015.
The 2015 awards will be hosted by Sydney Festival Artistic Director Wesley Enoch. Artist, curator, scholar and 2015 Fellowship recipient Brenda L Croft will present the Fellowship; singer/songwriter and 2015 Dreaming Award winner Kahl Wallis will present the Dreaming Award; and Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin will present the Red Ochre Award. Australia Council Chair Rupert Myer AO will give the address.
Red Ochre Award recipients 1993-2014
2015 Dr Gary Foley
2014 Hector Burton
2013 David Gulpilil
2012 Warren H Williams
2011 Archie Roach
2010 Michael Leslie
2009 Gawirrin Gumana
2008 Doris Pilkington Garimara
2006 Tom E Lewis
2005 Seaman Dan
2004 John Bulunbulun
2003 Jimmy Little
2002 Dorothy Peters
2001 Banduk Marika
2000 Mervyn Bishop
1999 Justine Saunders
1998 Bob Maza
1997 Jimmy Chi
1996 Maureen Watson
1995 Rita Mills
1994 Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri
1993 Eva Johnson
To visit the National Indigenous Arts Awards page click here.