Pitjantjatjara artist Kunmanara Williams has claimed the top prize in the inaugural Footscray Art Prize for his painting on Australia Post canvas mailbags.
His winning work, Postbag Painting, was chosen from more than 800 entries from across Australia and awarded a $10,000 cash prize.
Williams said he chose to use mailbags - which are Commonwealth Government property - as his painting surface in a bold statement about ownership and the conflict between Commonwealth law and Anangu lore.
Williams grew up around Pukatja, South Australia. He is a traditional Ngangkari healer and currently lives in the Northern Territory.
“I live in a very remote part of Australia where mail is delivered by plane twice a week. The bags are used for everything in my community, but after I started painting on them, the deeper meanings became more and more apparent,” he said.
His decision to repurpose canvas postbags as artwork occurred as a “happy accident” after he first used the bags to trace a map printed on them. Postbag Painting uses acrylic paint, as well as kulata (traditionally-made spear), Punu (wood), malu pulyku (kangaroo tendon), and kiti (resin from spinifex grass).
The Footscray Art Prize, a unique collaboration between Victoria University, Maribyrnong City Council, Footscray Community Arts Centre (FCAC), and the Rotary Club of Footscray, offered a total of $17,500 in cash and voucher prizes.
Judge Jason Smith, Director of Geelong Gallery, said picking a winner was tough among the “stunning quality” of entries. Thirty-two works were shortlisted from entries spanning photography, video, paintings, sculpture and street art.
“Prizes are wonderful because we get to see an incredible cross-section of contemporary art, but the horrible reality is there is only one recipient – no winner – just a recipient,” Smith said.
Nonetheless, Williams’ work was a stand-out to which the five judges kept returning, he said.
“Its particular form of poetry and politics, the way in which this artist manipulated the material to give us visual pleasure, to be extraordinarily thought-provoking, to remind us … we must love the place in which we live,” Smith said.
VU Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Dawkins said the Footscray Art Prize is an important contribution in building a vibrant and creative Footscray University Town.