Indigenous artist Vincent Namatjira wins the $100,000 Ramsay Art Prize

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Installation view of the Ramsay Art Prize winner featuring Close Contact by Vincent Namatjira.

An Indigenous artist with a famous surname and a penchant for Donald Trump has won this year’s $100,000 Ramsay Art Prize in Adelaide.

Key points:

  • The winning portrait refers to the first contact between Indigenous Australians and James Cook
  • The Ramsay Art Prize is open to Australian artists under the age of 40
  • The $100,000 prize is of equal value to the Archibald Prize

Vincent Namatjira, the great-grandson of acclaimed watercolour artist Albert Namatjira, has won the prize for his painting ‘Close Contact’.

The painter, from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in northern South Australia, was selected as winner by a panel of international and national contemporary art experts.

It is an irreverent examination of colonisation, with the title referring to the concept of “first contact” between Indigenous Australians and Captain James Cook.

The piece is a double-sided portrait on plywood with a mirroring piece depicting Captain Cook, a move away from his other canvas-based works.

As well as the $100,000 prize, the winning piece is acquired into the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Namatjira said the prize money would allow him to continue to create his art.

“Winning this prize means a lot to me and it will hopefully create more opportunities for me to continue to make more ambitious work and to share my practice with new audiences,” he said.

A man smiling at the camera with his thumbs up

“I also hope to use my position to create opportunities for other young artists in remote Indigenous communities.

“I can honestly say that becoming an artist turned my life around and now I want to be a leader and a role model for the next generation of young artists.”

Guest judge Russell Storer said Namatjira’s work stood out for its “directness and clarity, but also for its wit and complexity”.

“[It’s] a startling self-portrait combining painting and sculpture, and as such represents a major shift in Vincent’s practice,” he said.

“Cook is represented as a persistent shadow of the artist showing how Indigenous and white Australia are inextricably linked by history, but also in the present.

“Vincent’s thumbs-up stance expresses resilience and humour, crucial strategies for resistance and survival.”

Namatjira making his mark across the world

Namatjira, a finalist in the 2019 Archibald Prize, has been making his mark across the world with his works on display at many notable destinations, including the British Museum in London.

His portraits offer a wry take on the politics of history, power and leadership from a contemporary Indigenous perspective.

His fascination with some of the world’s best known figures, including the Royal family and US President Donald Trump, has inspired much of his work.

Namatjira has been open about his keennessto meet them in the future.

A man sits in the middle of a room with paintings behind him

Namatjira said he was so shocked that he almost had a heart attack when he found out his piece had won.

“It’s all good to see it on the wall but to see this here like it is, it’s way different, and a new style, new approach,” he said.

“Art has been with me all my life because of the name of course, but for me to paint the way I paint, instead of the Namatjira style, is pushing things forward,” he said.

“Art has given me joy, prosperity and it’s given me power also, because with a paint brush you can do anything.”

Other notable entrants into this year’s prize included pieces by Victorian artist Julia deVille and South Australian artist Pierre Mukeba.

A giraffe that died at Adelaide Zoo 35 years ago is the focus of deVille’s work, which is already on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Its body was kept in a freezer at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launcestonuntil it was acquired by deVille five years ago.

The giraffe is bejewelled with gems, including the engagement ring her ex-husband gave her.

The body of a baby giraffe encased in a decorative glass cabinet