Victorian Aboriginal Artists Light the Way on Reconciliation Week: Telstra NATSIAA

Two Victorian artists, Cassie Leatham and Kent Morris, have been named as finalists for the 2020 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Awards, which aim to showcase the very best in Australian Indigenous art by contemporary artists. It is Australia’s longest running and most prestigious Indigenous art awards.

This year, 67 artists have been selected to show in the Art Awards. The finalists consist of 26 from the Northern Territory, 17 from Western Australia, 16 from South Australia and 4 from QLD, 2 from Victoria, 1 from both NSW and the ACT.

Larrakia/Wadaman/Karajarri Curator Tina Baum, Wadjarri/Nhanda/Nyoongar Curator Glenn Iseger-Pilkington and Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory (MAGNT) Curator of Aboriginal Art and Material Culture Luke Scholes selected this year’s finalists.

“Pre-selection was challenging, as we knew it would be, but it was also incredibly reaffirming to see the unique ways people are telling stories, the ways people are reinventing traditional forms and materials and the generosity of our community in sharing the most personal, and often challenging stories, through their diverse practices,” says Tina Baum.

"More than ever, now is an opportunity for us to support and connect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and art centres with audiences around Australia. MAGNT and Telstra are working through the development of an uplifting re-imagined awards and exhibition experience in 2020 for our artists and audiences,” said MAGNT Director Marcus Schutenko.

Congratulations to this year’s finalists, once again the calibre of submissions is absolutely superb. Whatever the style, whatever the medium, there is an extraordinary power and beauty in Indigenous art and given the times we are in, it gives us a chance to be inspired and helps us to see the world differently." said Telstra CEO Andrew Penn.

The two selected Victorian artists are Cassie Leatham, who is a Gippsland artist that has entered the Telstra NATSIAA for the second time and been selected as a finalist two years in a row. This is a huge feat in itself but it’s one of a long list of achievements by this extraordinary artist. Cassie has devoted her life to teaching others about Indigenous arts, crafts, food, medicine and culture. In her words: ‘culture is my life’. She spends days foraging native edible and medicinal plants, seasonal foods and using them in workshops across Victoria.

Cassie Leatham, Woven life-size Bunjil the wedge-tailed eagle (Photo: Kelly Coleman Photography)

The second finalist is Kent Morris who is a Melbourne based artist, curator and educator of Barkindji and Irish heritage. This year’s artwork highlights the importance of maintaining and protecting the knowledge and wisdom of First Nations ancestors, Elders and communities. Kent says, "Armed with knowledge, we must keep fighting for recognition and respect for community led decision making and problem solving. Our culture is resilient, determined, generous and optimistic but we must be vigilant. Multiple aspects of our culture are constantly under threat.’ Kent produces large scale photographic works that are spectacularly beautiful and visually striking. A hugely successful artist, his work is widely known across Australia and overseas.

Kent Morris, Barkindji Blue Sky - Anestral Connections #1 (2019)

Among the finalists, 2020 Telstra NATSIAA is set to showcase 11 emerging artists who have practiced for less than five years. The 2020 Telstra NATSIAA received 238 entries submitted by Indigenous artists from urban areas and remote communities across the nation.

The winners to the awards will be announced in August when the exhibition opens at MAGNT in Darwin.

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