TONY ALBERT | Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award 2014

Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award


The Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award was established in 1984 as the National Aboriginal Art Award by the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. The aim of the Award is to recognise the important contribution made by Indigenous artists and to promote appreciation and understanding of the quality and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art from regional and urban based Indigenous artists throughout Australia, working in traditional and contemporary media. 

Tony Albert’s panel of twenty photographs of Aboriginal boys’ torsos, each one "decorated" with a red target and positioned against a deep black background, clearly created a wealth of moved responses that won the day. Albert himself had seized on an incident in Sydney’s Kings Cross when police had drawn their guns and shot at a car full of joy-riding teenage Aboriginal boys, wounding two, and subsequent demonstrations had included Black boys baring their chests and painting targets on themselves. But the Telstra judges went beyond this current affairs reading to add quasi-traditional interpretations including initiation, ceremonial body-painting, the tribalism of the group and the different shades of Black revealed. They also admitted to emotional responses involving mothering (the women) and gay appeal (the man). They were also in tune with the Museum & Art Gallery of the NT (MAGNT) which organizes the event, and which had added a new Youth Prize this year. As Clotilde Bullen, the curator from WA put it, “A lot of young Indigenous people are deciding this (art) is the way forward; and Tony Albert, with his sophisticated use of technology, is an inspiration to them”.

Perhaps the one factor that might have told against Albert was the fact that the judges also revealed that they were really looking for innovation in their prize-winners. And Albert had shown work like this before in Sydney. But, even here, the artist himself explained that he’d previously shown a limited number of selected images. But here he was reflecting the collaborative nature of his project by showing all the boys who had modeled for him “I didn’t want to let anyone down at this important forum”, he insisted.

Learn more about the award here and read a behind-the-scenes article here