Vincent Namatjira Becomes First Indigenous Winner of Major Australian Art Prize

Claire Selvin

BY CLAIRE SELVINSeptember 25, 2020 2:51pm

Vincent Namatjira, 'Stand Strong for Who
Vincent Namatjira, Stand Strong for Who You Are, acrylic on linen.AGNSW/MIM STIRLING

Vincent Namatjira has become the first Indigenous artist to win Australia’s Archibald Prize for portraiture, which comes with $100,000. The artist received the award for his painting Stand Strong for Who You Are, which features a depiction of the retired Australian footballer Adam Goodes.

Namatjira met Goodes in 2018 and was inspired to paint the athlete after viewing the 2019 documentary The Final Quarter, which traces Goodes’s career and anti-racism activism. Namatjira’s figurative paintings often take on political and social issues, and they have been exhibited at the Sydney Contemporary, Artspace Sydney, Art Basel Miami Beach, Art Basel Hong Kong, and other venues.

According to a report by the Guardian, Namatjira’s was selected as the winner by the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 1,068 entries for the prize.

“When I saw the 2019 documentary (The Final Quarter) about Adam’s final season of AFL football my guts were churning as I relived Adam’s experiences with relentless racism on and off the field,” Namatjira said in a statement. “As I watched, memories of my own experiences were stirred up and I knew I wanted to reach out and reconnect with Adam. We share some similar stories and experiences—of disconnection from culture, language and country, and the constant pressures of being an Aboriginal man in this country.”

Of his prize win, Namatjira said during the virtual awards ceremony, “It only took 99 years. I’m so proud to be the first but I also have to acknowledge all the Indigenous finalists and Indigenous sitters for this year and past years.”

Work by finalists for the prize will be shown at the Art Gallery of New South Wales through January 10, and the exhibition will tour New South Wales and Victoria next year. The Archibald Prize was established in 1921, and it is one of Australia’s most high-profile art awards.

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