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Vincent Namatjira, Stand Strong for Who You Are, 2020, acrylic on linen.
Vincent Namatjira, Stand Strong for Who You Are, 2020, acrylic on linen.

Vincent Namatjira Becomes First Indigenous Artist to Win Australia’s Archibald Prize

Vincent Namatjira on Friday was awarded Australia’s prestigious Archibald Prize, becoming the first Indigenous artist to receive the honor since the prize was established in 1921. Namatjira won the $100,000 prize for his work Stand Strong for Who You Are, painted in the colors of the Aboriginal flag (red, black, and yellow) and featuring himself and Indigenous footballer Adam Goodes, who played for the Sydney Swans before becoming an anti-racism activist.

Namatjira acknowledged his inspiration in a statement. “When I saw the 2019 documentary [The Final Quarter] about Adam’s final season of AFL football my guts were churning as I relived Adam’s experiences with relentless racism on and off the field. As I watched, memories of my own experiences were stirred up and I knew I wanted to reach out and reconnect with Adam. We share some similar stories and experiences—of disconnection from culture, language and country, and the constant pressures of being an Aboriginal man in this country.”

The Archibald Prize is awarded annually by the Art Gallery of New South Wales for the best portrait by an Australasian resident artist of a person “distinguished in art, letters, science or politics.”

“It only took 99 years,” said Namatjira, who had been a finalist for the prize three times prior, during the live-streamed awards ceremony. “I’m so proud to be the first but I also have to acknowledge all the Indigenous finalists and Indigenous sitters for this year and past years.”

“Instead of maintaining a cool distance from the symbols and sites of power, he uses them, and alters them, to tell his story, depicting himself repeatedly in the presence of authority figures, undaunted by the scale of their cultural and political clout,” wrote Wes Hill in a feature on Namatjira’s work in Artforum's October 2019 issue.

The artist, who grew up in the foster-care system in Perth, Australia, and now resides in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY lands) in South Australia, began painting traditional dot paintings but turned to figurative painting some seven years ago. He was awarded the Order of Australia earlier this year for his contribution to Indigenous visual arts.