Brisbane Powerhouse presents the MELT Portrait Prize.

The inaugural winner of the MELT Portrait Prize has been awarded to South Sudanese-Australian artist Atong Atem’s studio portrait Akuot. Atem also took out the People’s Choice Award with over 700 votes.

The MELT Portrait Prize award was judged by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk; Jason Smith, Curatorial Manager of Australian Art at Queensland Art Gallery; and Alexandra Winters, Curator and Exhibition Coordinator at Brisbane Powerhouse. The People’s Choice Award was run through Facebook with likes being counted as votes.

Atem said that winning the MELT Portrait Prize was overwhelming and validating. “Especially as a young black student making quite political work about colonialism and blackness, having this kind of recognition has really encouraged me to unashamedly continue pursuing my work.”

Atem is a Melbourne based photographer whose work explores post-colonial visual cultures and ways of retelling personal narratives through photography.

Atem said the winning portrait is about the tools that South Sudanese use to present themselves. “It’s the importance of ownership over personal narrative as a way to fight pervasive colonial histories and to loudly proclaim our existence exactly how we want to.”

She said the studio portrait was very important for South Sudanese: “when we adopted studio photography, we took our identities and how we were visually presented into our own hands, loudly denying the ethnographic gaze. When we use this to present our sexualities, genders and personal lives, we take ownership over our identities and celebrate our diversity in a way that is truly ours.”

MELT Festival Director Adam Gardnir is excited about the prize’s future. “With the success of this year I can only imagine that MELT Portrait Prize will continue to grow to national and international levels. It was especially wonderful to have the Queensland Premier and Jason Smith from Queensland Art Gallery as judges – and they were so impressed with the level of work.”

Brisbane Powerhouse Curator and Exhibition Coordinator Alexandra Winters agrees. “With over 55 entries in the first year we can definitely see the prize growing much bigger.”

The MELT Portrait Prize is one of the first prizes of its kind in Australia. The subject of the portrait had to be a member of the global LGBTIQ community, but the artist didn’t necessarily have to identify as LGBTIQ. Atong Atem has received a cash prize of $1000.

VENUE: Brisbane Powerhouse

INFO: 07 3358 8600 /

No comments yet.