Australia’s most prestigious award for portraiture has been won by an Aboriginal artist for the first time in its 99-year history. Vincent Namatjira, 37, claimed the annual Archibald Prize for a painting of himself and Adam Goodes, a champion Aboriginal Australian Rules footballer. Last week another painter, Meyne Wyatt, became the first Aboriginal artist to win a secondary prize. Namatjira is the great-grandson of celebrated artist Albert Namatjira. Previous Archibald winners include some of Australia’s most acclaimed artists, including Brett Whiteley, John Olsen, Wendy Sharpe and Ben Quilty. To be the first Aboriginal artist to win is really special,” Namatjira said after the announcement. “I feel like this is a very important moment in Australian art.”
His entry, titled “Stand Strong For Who You Are”, was chosen by the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ board of trustees from a record 1,068 submissions. Vincent’s work shows how much portrait painting still has to say and what strong voices our Indigenous artists have, said gallery director Michael Brand on Friday. His co-subject Goodes, a former Australian of the Year, took an early retirement from Australian Rules football in 2015 following persistent racial abuse from fans during games. Last year, separate films about his experience reignited public conversations about racism in Australia. Namatjira said he had been inspired to contact Goodes and paint him after watching one of the documentaries.
When I saw the documentary my guts were churning as I relived Adam’s experiences of relentless racism on and off the field. Memories of my own experiences were stirred up,” he said. The two shared similar experiences, he said, of feeling “constant pressures of being an Aboriginal man in this country” and feeling disconnected from their heritage. Namatjira lives and works in a remote Aboriginal community in central Australia. He had previously been a four-time finalist for the A$100,000 (£55,000; $70,000) portraiture prize. Wyatt, an artist and actor, won the Packing Room Prize which is selected by gallery staff for a self-portrait.