It "only took 99 years," said Vincent Namatjira this week after winning this year's prestigious Archibald Prize. The FIRST Indigenous winner of the Archibald, Namatjira represented himself alongside former AFL player and 2014 Australian of the Year Adam Goodes, entailed Stand Strong for Who You Are.
"When I was younger and growing up in the foster system in Perth, Indigenous footballers were like heroes to me. Goodesy is much more than a great footballer though, he took a strong stand against racism and said, 'enough is enough'. I stand strong with you too, brother."
In a year where records are being broken, lives and movements are being created, the Art Gallery of NSW has unveiled records of its own across its annual Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prize finalists - there’s a record 10 Indigenous sitters among the 55 Archibald finalists, and a record 26 Indigenous artists among the total 107 finalists.
Astonishing in itself, I wonder what greater meaning and message these numbers represent? Why now? Indigenous art has been prominent for thousands of years. Aboriginal culture dates back as far as between 60,000 to 80,000 years with Aboriginal Art reflecting the earliest period of this ancient culture. Think Rock art, telling stories, conveying information and passing on cultural heritage. But did you know that this art on canvas and board only began in 1971 when Geoffrey Bardon, a school teacher working with Aboriginal children in Papunya, noticed the Aboriginal men, while telling stories to others, were drawing symbols in the sand. He then encouraged them to put these stories down on board and canvas, and there began the Aboriginal art movement, one of the most exciting art forms of the 20th century.
As I watch Namitjira accept is prestigious prize, it is not just a prize and a monetary value that is given, but an acknowledgement of traditional knowledge and culture; a prize that will only help strengthen culture in Aboriginal society by reinforcing the values of traditional knowledge, which forms the basis of Aboriginal art.
View the finalists of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes 2020 here