For nearly a century, until now, a native artist has never won any of the awards on offer in the prestigious Archibald Prize.
The artist Wongutha-Yamatji received the Archibald Packing Room Prize 2020 for his self-portrait Meyne on Thursday.
The Packing Room Prize – a cash prize of $ 1,500 – will be awarded to the best entry for the Archibald Prize, judged by the Art Gallery of New South Wales staff who receive, unpack and hang the entries.
The shortlist for the main Archibald Prize was announced Thursday and the winner will be announced on September 25.
The Western Australian-born Sydney-based artist, writer and actor is a household name in Australia, making headlines in June when he performed a powerful four-minute speech from his play City Of Gold on ABC’s Q&A program.
He told the media that he entered the Archibald Prize only because of his mother.
“I want to thank the Art Gallery of New South Wales, their staff, [head packer] Brett Cuthbertson and the Packing Room team. I especially want to thank my mother, who in the first place encouraged me to enter the Archibald Prize and gave me the courage to be so bold, ”he said.
“In a way, that’s the essence of the painting and what it depicts: being daring.”
Wyatt’s painting was selected as one of the 55 finalists’ works from a record number of entries for the Archibald Prize.
“Being a finalist for the Archibald Prize was a dream, let alone the Packing Room Prize. I am absolutely ecstatic and really humbled by this great honor, ”said Wyatt.
It’s the first time Wyatt has ever entered the Archibald Prize, and he told SBS News that he hopes his win will inspire other Indigenous artists.
“I think it’s pretty incredible that I was the first indigenous artist, because I think there have been a lot of artists in those 99 years, but I suppose our art and culture has been around here for over 60,000 years. This is just a tiny speck, ”he said.
“The Archibald Prize, it’s cool, but hopefully it will open the door for many more Indigenous artists to receive these awards.”
After 39 years at the gallery, lead packer Brett Cuthbertson holds 52 percent of the votes for the Packing Room Prize.
“When Meyne came into the gallery to deliver his entry, he said he hadn’t painted in a while and the work was just a COVID project. I loved the story and was very impressed with the result, ”he said.
The highest Archibald prize has never been awarded to an artist of non-European background, and Wyatt said the art world needs to diversify.
“I think the opportunities are there and those opportunities should be exploited, because the work is there, and the artistic integrity is there too. I think this will hopefully open doors in the future, ”he said.
His mother Susan Wyatt is also an artist and was a finalist in the Archibald Prize in 2003 for her portrait of writer Doris Pilkington (Nugi Garimarra).
Works by native artists have been recognized by the gallery in other awards, including the Sulman Prize for Genre Work and the Wynne Prize for Landscape, but they should not be confused with the highest Archibald Prize and the Packing Room Prize.
In 2016, the Sulman Prize was won by Pitjantjatjara artist Kaylene Whiskey, and for the past four years, the Wynne Prize has been awarded to an indigenous artist or collective.
The Archibald Prize exhibition is open to the public from September 26 to January 10, 2021 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.