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Spirited owl and echidnas net indigenous awards

This article about the Victorian Indigenous Art Awards by Kylie Northover was in The Age on Saturday 10 March. See it in its original context here.

Prize-winning artists Katrina Doolan and Glenda Nicholls.
Prize-winning artists Katrina Doolan and Glenda Nicholls. Photo: Simon Schluter

THE major winner of the 2012 Victorian Indigenous Art Awards, Trevor ”Turbo” Brown, says his painting Owl Dreaming reflects ”life’s true colours, beautiful colours from my dreaming, for people to look at all over the world and believe”.

Brown won the $25,000 Deadly Art Award last night, which was announced by Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Jeanette Powell at gallery fortyfivedownstairs in Flinders Lane.

The awards, across five categories and open to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists living in Victoria, featured 27 shortlisted works from 132 entries, and a total of $50,000 shared among the winners of each category.

Trevor 'Turbo' Brown's <i>Owl Dreaming</i>.
Trevor ‘Turbo’ Brown’s Owl Dreaming.

The finalists were selected by a panel comprising Aboriginal artist Dr Treahna Hamm; Clinton Nain, a Torres Strait Islander artist; and Jason Smith, director of Heide Museum of Modern Art.

Brown, a Latji Latji man originally from Mildura, is a former homeless alcoholic who is intellectually disabled. He took up painting in 2001, often depicting animals in his work, and is already an acclaimed artist.

”It’s my dreaming,” he says of his exuberant painting style, ”and it brings the animals back to life.”

Owl Dreaming, described by the judges as ”a work of great vibrancy and power”, represents an owl from Brown’s country whom, he says, he ”has had many conversations with”.

The owl talks to Brown ”about protecting the animals all over Australia. It looks out for them, and helps them, it is the owl spirit.”

Brown says he misses animals now he lives in the city.

”I miss my animals all over Australia, my dreamtime animals. Can’t see nothing in the city, it’s like a brick wall … I like Australian animals running free, gone with the wind, all happy, not locked up,” he says.

As for the $25,000 prizemoney, Brown said he’d use it to go on holiday, ”all over Australia”.

Other prizewinners included Wadi Wadi/Yorta Yorta/Ngarrindjeri artist Glenda Nicholls, whose work Ochre Net won both the Koorie Heritage Trust Acquisition Award and the Indigenous Art Award for Three Dimensional Works.

The judges described the work as ”an aesthetically refined work of art that communicates the necessity of maintaining cultural traditions”.

Nicholls learnt traditional crafts such as weaving and feathercraft from her mother and grandmother during her childhood near Swan Hill.

”I’d never made a net before,” she says. ”I had dreamed about making two nets, so I decided to learn how to weave one.”

Using traditional materials such as plant material from her country, Nicholls says the act of creating the net was a contemplative experience.

”When I was weaving it, it brought a lot of questions to mind. I grew up along the Murray River and my parents lived there all their lives,” she says. ”It drew questions about how they made them traditionally, and what materials they used. Now I plan to find out more.”

Mildura artist Katrina Doolan won the Highly Commended award in the same category for her sculpture work Babies Are Our Future, a clutch of clay echidnas using real quills.

Doolan, a Paakantji woman who grew up with her extended family in makeshift dwellings on the Murray River, shifting with the seasons, uses found objects from old campsites.

She and her family used to eat the echidnas they found in the river’s banks, and the quills in her work are from the latest one she ate.

”That was about six years ago, but I’ve kept the quills ever since, because it was just before my dad died,” she says.

Her sculptures are made from earthenware clay, with the quills inserted after firing.

Doolan only started making art in 2008, and in 2009 she won first prize in the MADEC competition for a photo of her sons doing traditional dance.

Her work, she says, is about ”the importance of teaching our history and our culture to our children”.

”It’s great to come down to the city for this big prize – this is big,” she says. ”I’m very excited.”

The works from the 2012 Victorian Indigenous Art Awards will be at fortyfivedownstairs until March 31.

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