The Art Gallery of South Australia’s Ramsay Art Prize is one of the country’s most prestigious and lucrative awards. We speak to the three South Australian artists in the running for this transformative honour.
The 2019 crop of Ramsay Art Prize finalists work across a vast and eclectic array of mediums to share diverse, unexpected and often-personal stories and perspectives. From large-scale textile fabrications to a post-colonial cut-out figure, we ask South Australia’s three finalists to share the stories behind their shortlisted entries.
Sera Waters, Falling: Line By Line
“Falling: Line by Line grew from many explorations into Australian history and experiments making other wallpapers. As a wallpaper Falling: Line by Line is intentionally a longer and larger format, more irregular in shape, and tests the limits of this medium. Each of my wallpapers have riffed off the style of the popular 1980s Australiana Semco longstitches which depicted nostalgic pastoral scenes in woollen pastel tones. In fact, the longstitch which I created and photographed to make this wallpaper repurposes the materials of those very kits, as well as woollen leftovers, either given to me, or collected from op shops.
“In contrast to the Semco longstitch kits though I create my patterns from photographs taken on road trips or walking. And rather than stitching blocks of colour, mine teem with meticulous detail and repetitive patterns. Enlarging this longstitch to seven meters not only shows this intimate attention but also that a landscape is a construction. I hope this is a reminder of the settler colonial impact upon this country.
“This is my most significant work to date. Not only does it show the culmination of my experiments as an artist at this point in my career, it also is a work that, for me, recognises our current situation in the aftermath of continuing Colonisation. As news of significant trees being threatened for development has continued across 2019, it repeatedly shows we are regularly still not prioritising our environment and the rich histories of this country. Giant trees such as the fallen one I have depicted have not only been witness to the irrevocable changes wrought upon Country but carry layers of knowledge, stories, past events and more.
Vincent Namatjira, Close Contact
“Last time I visited Melbourne, I saw E Phillips Fox’s painting Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770 at the NGV. This painting is a typical heroic representation of Cook, and the Indigenous Australians in the painting are off in the background, pretty much out of the picture. So when I was planning my work I was thinking ‘what might be the flipside of the heroic portrait of Cook?’ I like the idea of an unexpected contact or conflict between past and present and that’s what I was thinking about with this work, and why I decided to experiment with the double-sided painting, trying to say ‘there’s two sides to every story’.
“I was inspired by those paintings – I don’t know what you call them – for kids or tourists to put their head through the hole and get their photo taken, with their head on someone else’s body. It started out as a bit of a funny idea, but quickly developed into something that I thought could be really powerful and unexpected.
“I chose this work because it represents the main themes of my practice – to look at iconic figures and power structures in Australian history from a contemporary Indigenous perspective. ‘Close Contact’ also demonstrates a new approach for me with the double-sided sculptural painting. I wanted to put something bold and unexpected in the Ramsay Prize. I like the idea of the audience interacting with this work differently than they would to a wall-based painting – hopefully the work has an impact on everyone who sees it.”
Pierre Mukeba, Ride to church
“I was having a conversation with one of my friends about growing up in Africa, the transportation systems we used, et cetera. I started having memories of times in Zimbabwe when my family had to jump in a car or on a bike squeezing in five to six people at a time, knowing how dangerous and unsafe it was, just to get around daily. I kept having a particular memory of all the times I was on a bike going to church with family.
“[I entered this piece] because just the thought of the difference between transportation systems in African countries and Western countries opens up a lot of different conversations. I feel like the piece will open up a lot of different conversation and even memories.
“I wanted to challenge my drawing skills by drawing a really large scale piece and at the same time push my creativity with the way I draw figures.”
The 2019 Ramsay Art Prize winner will be announced on Friday, May 24, with all finalists to be exhibited at the Art Gallery of South Australia from May 25 to August 25.
Vincent Namatjira, courtesy of Iwantja Arts
Photo: Rhett Hammerton