2014 First Nations Art Award inspired by police shooting of teenagers joy riding in Kings Cross

First Nation teenage boys are often walking targets for bullies, racists and the police, so Tony Albert's art piece "We Can Be Heroes" stands defiant, challenging the viewer to take aim at the red bullseyes painted on their chests. The painting consists of 20 portraits, each young man, including the artist and his assistant, emerge bare-chested from a black background in a variety of proud and bold poses.


Enlarged detail of the work in lightbox view
Artist Tony Albert, winner of this year's Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, with his work 'We Can Be Heroes' (The Australian)

Andrew Taylor www.smh.com.au 8 August 2014


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Tony Albert 'We Can Be Heroes'
Pigment print on paper
(Pic: Glenn Campbell Sydney Morning Herald)


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Tony Albert with his work
(Pic: Glenn Campbell Sydney Morning Herald)


Other winners and their art

Sydney Morning Herald Image Gallery

The winner of this year's National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, presented in Darwin on Friday, Tony Albert, says the work was inspired by the police shooting of two Aboriginal teenagers as they went on a joy ride in Kings Cross in 2012.

At protests following the shooting, Albert witnessed friends of the teenage boys with their shirts off and targets drawn on their body.

"It was incredibly profound for young people to make such a statement," he says.

Albert said the notion of indigenous men as walking targets is a daily experience for the 18 teenage boys from Kirinari Aboriginal Hostel in Sylvania Heights, whose portraits appear in the work.

He said they shared stories of being followed in shopping centres and constantly watched by the police.

The winner of the works on bark category Garawan Wanambi for his work Click for more photos

The boys are from rural and remote communities who come to Sydney for their education, but Albert said their every action is treated with suspicion.

"It's not larrikin behaviour when it's an indigenous boy so you have to be mindful of everything you do."

Despite its highly political message, the judges of the $50,000 Telstra art award said Albert's work had a "quiet beauty and sense of intimacy".

Winner of the works on paper category: Nici Cumpston for her work 'Scar Tree, Barkindji Country'.

Winner of the works on paper category: Nici Cumpston for her work Scar Tree, Barkindji Country. Photo: Glenn Campbell

One of the judges, David Broker said the judges were attracted to the social issues represented in Albert's work, which he said extended beyond Aboriginal men to other people marginalised by society.

The $50,000 prize caps off a successful year for Albert who won the $100,000 Basil Sellers Art Prize last month.

Albert said he was grateful to be among the 65 finalists in the indigenous art awards, which will be displayed at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

He recalled being at the museum in 2003 when controversial artist Richard Bell, for whom Albert was then a studio assistant, accepted the award wearing a shirt with the words "White girls can't hump".

"Of course he is incredibly influential in my work and my life basically," Albert says. "He's taught me so much over many years."

Six awards worth a total of $75,000 were handed out in Darwin as part of the indigenous art awards, which attracted 306 entries.

The winners were Tony Albert, Daniel Walbidi, Garawan Wanambi, Alick Tipoti, Nici Cumpston and Kieren Karritpul.

MAGNT's director Pierre Arpin said the awards promoted an appreciation of the quality and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art.

"Our exhibition allows all indigenous artists to participate and have their works included in the context of a critical juried assessment," he said.

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards exhibition is at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory from August 8 to October 26.