Dunghutti artist and elder Gus Kelly has won the first Koori Mail Indigenous Art Award with his powerful drawing Nobody Told Me There’d Be Days Like These… depicting the impact of colonisation throughout history to the present day.
Of the work, Gus Kelly says this is our story, our Black History. ‘The first bar starts at the beginning – when we roamed our Country from the mountains to the sea with no obstacles. The second bar shows the coming of the Europeans in their tall ships … The third bar is when they returned – this time to stay. The fourth bar is the squatters and homesteaders who just took our land and moved us onto missions.’
Mr Kelly said the fifth bar shows the Europeans wanting more. ‘This is when the massacres began, killing us and moving onto our land.
‘The sixth bar? They put us on missions and give us food rations. If they decided we weren’t looking after our children, they took them away. The seventh bar is the tent embassy, the referendum, land rights, black deaths in custody; the beginning of the protests…
‘The eighth bar is all the unmarked graves – too numerous to count – from the colonial massacres up to the present-day deaths.
‘But we were here, and we are still here. Always was and Always will be.’
Kelly’s work warm and charming
The prize’s judge Djon Mundine OAM FAHA said that many people are putting themselves into art at an older age. Emily Kngwarreye, Rover Thomas, and Richard Bell are a case in point. Gus Kelly is such an artist. His work is very warm and charming, he uses children’s materials and compositions to tell his story. But he draws adult stories and adult truths.’
Mundine says finding the winners becomes harder every year. ‘It’s so enjoyable. It’s not cliched. It’s not about stereotypes. It’s really brilliant. And the artists are so confident in doing what they do – both in their aesthetic style and their standard of painting – it’s so much better.
Mr Mundine said the works were very much about wit and intelligence. ‘All those things and just enjoyment – any personality can be Aboriginal.
Mr Mundine said he looked at all of the works and there were definitely a few that stuck with him. ‘Generally what I do is I go through and look at work and there’s something that stays in my mind, and then I go back and think “I’ll have another look at that”. And then you go back and have another look deeply – did I miss anything? And then you just think that was actually really beautiful.
‘The majority of the people are from New South Wales – from here. This could it could be in Paris or Beijing or anywhere else. Truthfully!’
Gallery honoured to be hosting exhibition
Lismore Regional Gallery says they are honoured to be hosting this important award for innovative contemporary indigenous artistic practice. In this, the first year the Award
has run, the finalists’ works show the enormous depth of talent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists in Australia. There are representatives from every state
and territory, with strong representation from Bundjalung artists and Aboriginal artists practising in the Northern Rivers.
The entire list of winners are:
Gus Kelly – The Koori Mail Art Award $10,000
Kylie Caldwell – Bundjalung Art Award $2,500
Open to Bundjalung artists and/or artists working on Bundjalung country
Luke Close – Innovation Art Award $2,500
Open to Indigenous artists living in Bundjalung, Yaegl and Githabul country
Jahvis Loveday – Youth Art Award $500
Open to artists from 12 to 24 years of age
Edwinea Paulson, Anthony Walker and Louise Daniels
The Koori Mail Indigenous Art Award 2021 Exhibition runs until January 30, 2022 at the Lismore Regional Gallery.