The winners of the 2023 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA) have been announced!
Keith Wikmunea, a Thu’ Apalech man and artist from Aurukun in Far North Queensland, took out the prestigious Telstra Art Award and the $100,000 prize for his sculptural piece, Ku’, Theewith & Kalampang: The White Cockatoo, Galah and the wandering Dog.
The towering artwork proudly showcases Keith’s spiritual emblems known as totems, featuring the white cockatoo from his father’s side and the galah from his mother’s side. It took more than two months for him to carefully carve the sculpture from timber by hand, before painting it with traditional ochre.
‘The colours on this tree are specific to my clan, the Thu’ Apalech people. In Wik-Mungkan, my first spoken language, we call this tree yuk thanchal,’ Keith says. ‘This tree is also known as [Milkwood] in English and is the same tree that my ancestors have been using since the beginning of time.’
He told media he was incredibly proud to have taken out the award, and had plans to use the money to buy a boat and a car, so he could take his family back to his Country, where they could go camping and fishing together.
The judging panel selected Keith’s piece from 246 diverse entries from across Australia, while six other artists were named as the winners of the individual category awards, each winning $15,000. All 63 finalist’s works are now on display in a special exhibition at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) in Darwin.
MAGNT’s Curator of Aboriginal Art and Material Culture, Rebekah Raymond, says each of the finalists’ works was deeply personal to the artist, but many also shared timely messages about climate change, health, mining, loss of wildlife, and the ongoing impacts of colonisation.
‘Every year [of the awards], you’re seeing what the artists are responding to in their own lives and their own communities,’ Rebekah says.
The resulting showcase is a beautiful celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and their cultures — and the powerful role art plays in continuing it, as the oldest living culture on Earth.
Read on to learn more about the winners, and what the judges had to say about their powerful works!
See the Telstra 2023 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards exhibition now at MAGNT until 18 February 2024.