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National Indigenous Arts Awards honour leading First Nations artists

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 event, held on May 27th each year, coincides with the anniversary of the 1992 Mabo ruling, which recognised the rights of First Nations people as the traditional owners of their land. Wesley Enoch will MC the event, along with Australia Council Deputy Chair Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin.

The recipients of the two Red Ochre Awards for Lifetime Achievement will travel from Maningrida in the Northern Territory, and from the northern Queensland community of Aurukun. The prestigious Red Ochre Award boasts an extraordinary group of alumni who have been recognised by this award since 1993, with the addition of a second Red Ochre in 2017.

The Dreaming Award celebrates an inspirational young artist and gives them the opportunity to create a major body of work through mentoring and partnerships, nationally or internationally. The Council’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Fellowship will also be honoured at this special event, acknowledging the contributions of a leading artist and supporting them to undertake a major creative project.

Chair of the Council’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy Panel, Wesley Enoch, said that he and the Panel were delighted to be able to recognise these exceptional artists.

“It is so important that we support and celebrate our First Nations artists at critical moments throughout their careers. The 2018 recipients demonstrate such breadth and richness in their practice, and they represent a profound sense of cultural strength across the generations.”

2018 National Indigenous Arts Awards recipients;

2018 Red Ochre Award (for outstanding lifetime achievement)

–  Mr John Mawurndjul, from Arnhem Land (NT)

–  Mrs Waal-Waal Ngallametta  from Aurukun community (QLD)

2018 The Dreaming Award (for an emerging artist aged 18-26 years)

–  Thomas E.S Kelly (QLD/NSW)

2018 Australia Council Fellowship (for established artists, supporting creative activity and professional development for up to two years)

–  Hetti Perkins (NSW)

Australia Council Chair Mr Rupert Myer AO said this event and the awards are an important way to reinforce the Council’s commitment to investing in and celebrating First Nations arts.

“It is wonderful to be able to pay tribute to these extraordinary artists, and acknowledge their rich contribution to the world’s culture. Their work is vital to our cultural identity and influence, and Australians can take great pride in their achievements,” Mr Myer said.

“I congratulate the recipients of this year’s awards and particularly pay tribute to Red Ochre Award recipients, John Mawurndjul and Mrs Waal-Waal Ngallametta . They are such deeply respected leaders who have achieved so much in Australia and internationally, helping to strengthen the visibility of Australia’s diverse First Nations art.

This year’s NIAA awards are supported in part by Australian Council staff and Board members under its workplace giving program.

More details can be found on the Australia Council’s website.

Media enquiries:

Brianna Roberts, Media Manager, Australia Council for the Arts

Phone: (02) 9215 9030  Mobile: 0498 123 541



Mr John Mawurndjul

A Kuninjku bark painter and sculptor, Mr John Mawurndjul is one of the leading Aboriginal Australian artists, receiving worldwide recognition for his work. He was born in 1952 near Mumeka, an important camping site for members of the Kurulk clan on the Mann River some 50 kms south of Maningrida. He grew up at Mumeka and surrounding Tomkinson, Liverpool and Mann Rivers seasonal camps with only sporadic contact with balandas (non-aboriginal people). In the late 1970s he was tutored in painting by his elder brother Jimmy Njiminjuma and Uncle Peter Marralwanga, who showed him how to use rarrk cross-hatching in new and innovative ways.

Mr Mawurndjul started to paint on small barks generally depicting natural species and mythological beings such as Ngalyod the rainbow serpent that guards sacred sites (djang) in all western Arnhem Land. During the late 1980s he started to produce larger and more elaborate paintings with complex arrangements of figures. His work rapidly captured the attention of art critics and in 1988 he won the Rothmans Foundation Award for best painting in traditional media at NAAA and the first prize at the Barunga Festival Art exhibition. In 1991 Gabrielle Pizzi Gallery held his first solo show and during the 1990s 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).

In 2000, his work was featured at the Sydney Biennale and in 1999, 2002 and 2016 he won the bark painting prize at the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award. 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, Mr 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 the new Musee du Quai Branly in Paris which has become an integral part of the architecture.

Mrs Mrs Waal-Waal Ngallametta

Born in the coastal country of the Kugu people around Kendall River, south of Aurukun on the Cape York Peninsula, Mrs Waal-Waal Ngallametta  is a Senior Elder of the Putch Clan and a Cultural leader of the Wik and Kugu People of Aurukun.

As a young girl, Waal-Waal Ngallametta was taught by her elders in the traditional methods of weaving and basketry using cabbage palm and pandanus. She grew up in the missionary dormitories but was able to maintain close links with her family and is known in the community as a strong Culture woman. She was granted the Community Arts Achievement Award in 2004 for her contribution to the school and community, teaching the children the traditional crafts. Waal-Waal Ngallametta has travelled throughout Australia teaching traditional weaving to adults and children, performing traditional dance and song and exhibiting her paintings. Waal-Waal Ngallametta’s weaving is renowned for its dramatic use of colour and asymmetrical designs and is held in many private collections throughout the world.

Waal-Waal Ngallametta started to paint in 2008 during a workshop at the Wik and Kugu Arts and Craft Centre facilitated by Gina Allain.  She has developed her own original artistic style, depicting imagery based on community life and Country.  Waal-Waal Ngallametta was the winner of the 2013 NATSIA General Painting Award. In her artist’s statement, Waal-Waal Ngallametta 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”.

Thomas E.S Kelly

Thomas is a proud Bundjalung, Wiradjuri, Ni-Vanuatu man.

Thomas graduated in 2012 from NAISDA Dance College and has since worked with the likes of Vicki Van Hout, Shaun Parker and Company, Branch Nebula, ERTH, Chunky Move, Tasdance, Outer Urban Projects and Urban Theatre Projects.

His choreographic credits include his Green Room Award winning work [MIS]CONCEIVE, VESSEL for Outer Urban Projects and SHIFTING > SHAPES.

Thomas creates work that explores high intensity physical works stemming from a cultural practice fused with contemporary, which incorporates voice and physical percussion.

Creating work that ebbs and flows whilst mimicking nature. Thomas creates work that reveals subject matters that offers an opportunity to learn and develop. Remembering the past to better understand the present so we can move forward into the future.

In 2017 Thomas created Karul Projects. A new company led by new Indigenous voices telling new stories. Karul Projects is resident company at PACT.

Hetti Perkins

Hetti Perkins is an Arrernte and Kalkadoon curator, writer, advisor and presenter with 30 years of national and international experience working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts with federal agencies, community arts organisations, state galleries and local government.

After completing a Bachelor of Arts in 1986, Hetti was employed at the Sydney gallery of Aboriginal Arts Australia, where she worked with artists in remote and rural community art centres and independent artists, and travelled to New York as part of the ‘Dreamings: Art of Aboriginal Australia’ (1988) exhibition. She curated the ‘Aboriginal Womens Exhibition’ for the AGNSW in 1991 and national tour and worked on the establishment of the Yiribana Gallery. Following this, as Curator at Boomalli in Sydney, she initiated a program to expand its premises and profile and presented many exhibitions in Sydney and internationally with a focus on artist members and NSW artists.

In 1997, as a freelance curator, Hetti co-curated ‘fluent’ as Australia’s representative exhibition at the Venice Biennale and commissioned work by dancer Russell Page. For 14 years Hetti was Curator and then Senior Curator at the AGNSW where she expanded the collection, curated several major exhibitions, edited significant publications and wrote and lectured extensively. She wrote and presented ‘art and soul’, two three-part documentary series, for ABC TV, and co-produced four series of ‘Colour Theory’ for SBS/NITV. She was co-curator of the Australian Indigenous Art Commission at the Musee du quai Branly, Paris.

Hetti is a past member of the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council and the boards of the MCA and MAGNT.



Brianna Roberts


(02) 9215 9030


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