King & Wood Mallesons (KWM) has announced that Michelle Woody (Tiwi Islands, NT) has been awarded the 2020 KWM Contemporary First Nations Art Award.

Selected from over 60 entries and a shortlist of 29 finalists, Woody’s winning work, ‘Ngiya Murrakupupuni’, encapsulates her contemporary Tiwi style for which she is gaining national recognition. In the long-standing tradition of her ancestors, Michelle utilises natural ochres sourced on country around Milikapiti that are collected, crushed and burned into the three traditional colours of the island landscape: white, yellow and red.

Woody is a strong Tiwi culture woman and artist who has shown in a range of exhibition formats both nationally and internationally. She often uses the distinct Tiwi pwoja (ironwood comb) to paint depictions of Ngiya Murrakupupuni (My Country), winga (saltwater) and jilamara (Tiwi body paint design).

As the recipient of the art award for 2020, Woody receives $20,000 and her work will be displayed in an exhibition with the other finalists in Melbourne in July 2021.

Woody said, “I will use the money to conduct a Pukumani ceremony with my in-laws for my husband, who was an artist, and who passed on about a year ago. Today Tiwi culture is important – this will help me continue to participate in ceremonies to respect my relatives and teach my grand-children. To pass on this knowledge, it makes me feel wonderful.”

The VIC Local Artist Award ($5,000) has been awarded to Maree Clarke, for her work ‘A Moment In Time – Connection to Country.’

The three Highly Commended Awards ($2,000) have been awarded to Carmen Glynn-Braun (NSW), Michael Cook (QLD) and Carolanne Ken (SA).

The KWM People’s Choice Award will be announced on November 25, following an online voting period from November 3 to November 17 2020.

Award Patron Djon Mundine OAM said, “In an age where we are drowning in images, these common, average Aboriginal artists make these gestures to give us moments of imagination and pointed meaning. We, Aboriginal people, strive to talk in art across generations so we remain in the focal point in this national imagination. To paraphrase Patrice Lumumba’s words from the 1960s: the day will come when history will speak… Aboriginal people will write our own history in art. It will be a history of glory, intelligence and dignified confidence.”

KWM Chief Executive Partner, Australia, Berkeley Cox said, “It has been wonderful to see the wide variety of works that were submitted for this year’s KWM First Nations Art Award and the community that is being built around the award as a result of the contributions of so many people. Each of our finalists’ work communicated to us a story and we are humbled that Michelle chose to share the story of how her community comes together to commemorate and mourn the loss of one of their own through her art. I would like to congratulate Michelle, Maree, Carmen, Michael and Carolanne on being the recipients of these awards and to all our finalists for sharing your work with us. We look forward to seeing the pieces on display in Melbourne next year.”

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