Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this page contains the names of deceased persons.
The RAKA, or Ruth Adeney Koori Award, was first awarded in 1991 to advance recognition of Indigenous artistic achievements and creativity. The award was established by eminent art and cultural historian Professor Emeritus Bernard Smith. Smith believed in the restorative justice powers of the arts in all forms, which is why the Kate Challis RAKA Award celebrates Indigenous creative excellence. It is named to honour the memory of his late wife, Kate Challis, who was known in her youth as Ruth Adeney. Each year, the award promotes achievement of creative work across a range of different media over a five-year cycle – creative prose, drama, visual arts, scriptwriting and poetry.
This year, the Kate Challis RAKA Award promotes achievement of creative work in visual arts by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. The exhibition amplifies the practices of emerging and established artists, who have made a significant impact and contribution to the arts within the past five years.
WINNER: Brian Robinson for Uncharted: Astralobe and Zelee in Kulkalgal Country
Image courtesy of Brian Robinson
Statement from the Selection Committee
This year’s entries offered the selection committee a glimpse into the outstanding work of First Nations artists across the country. Thank you to all the artists who shared their work with us and gave the committee the chance for a great discussion, inspiring us with your collective creativity and commitment to your practice.
Congratulations to artist Brian Robinson, the committee were impressed with your bold designs and your ability to effortlessly blend reality with fantasy by incorporating powerful cultural references and pop iconography in your work. The judges acknowledged your detailed and richly layered storytelling, sharing insights into the diverse marine environment and magnificent constellations, all grounded in the customs and traditions of your Kala Lagaw Ya and Wuthathi heritage of the Torres Strait.
Amala Groom is a Wiradyuri conceptual artist living and working on Country in Kelso, NSW. Her featured work, the Union (2019) appropriates the cultural symbolism of the ultimate union; ‘marriage’, as performed in (heteronormative) western traditions.
Twisting and heaving, Groom works through a tangle of red twine in her forest of ghosts. Enveloping her body and coming from the land, from Mother Earth, the twine acts both as an umbilical cord and a reminder to stay connected to the past, present and future.
Groom’s journey is not a peaceful one. It is one entered with commitment to finding peace in the purity of consciousness by allowing trauma and karma to run its due course; in turn, forming her epistemologies of spiritual self and wellbeing through the act of embarking on the journey itself. Groom’s vessel is the product of colonisation and her performance is her surrendering to its trauma, allowing her to find pure consciousness, her ‘Amala’.
Words by Coby Edgar, commissioned for The National 2019: New Australian Art
Fiona Foley is a Badtjala artist whose work The Magna Carta Tree #4 (2021) is a selection from a series of photographic works shot on her Country.
Staged and shot on Batdjala Country, the large format tableaux images reenact the colonial past of vice and eroticised racism. Of a foreboding quality, Foley’s constructed scenes fuse reality and fantasy. The characters place themselves in the artist’s imagined landscape, distorting rules of location and time. They undertake the reversed gaze of their ancestors, looking towards the European settlers but also to their own histories. In an act of double consciousness, they gaze back at themselves as actors and at Foley’s bearing witness to the violence of colonialism. They also look back at the viewer with the viewer’s own gaze, indicating the involvement in a past for which we refuse to take responsibility.
Words by Crisia Constantine
Kent Morris is a Barkindji man living on Yaluk-ut Weelam Country in Melbourne. His featured work, Crow (2022) is from the Sovereign Seconds series. In this series, the artist invites us inwards, to the soul and the body of Country, from the sky Country to the land and the water and our plant family. The airy kaleidoscope has become a journey home to, and for, our hearts and souls. The birds are still there, but they are no longer poised on rooftops, on the edge of the sky, urging us outwards. We follow their eyes, the arrow of their beaks, downwards to country or outwards to water.
Words by Clare G. Coleman
"The repeating patterns speak of infinity through a First Nations’ lens. If this lens was utilised and incorporated, we would all understand plants, humans, animals, land, sea and sky as interconnected and interdependent.” Kent Morris
Candy NELSON NAKAMARRA
Candy Nelson Nakamarra is was born in Yuendumu in 1964, daughter to renowned Papunya Tula artist Johnny Warangkula, who taught his children how to paint whilst passing down family stories. Her featured work is one of nine multdimensional paintings.
Each painting in this new body of work inimitably articulates the sacred Kalipinypa Water Dreaming story – the rain- and hail-making ceremony passed down to the artist by her eminent late father. Nakamarra continues to energise and reinvent this ancient and abiding songline through a complex and exceptional layering of paint for which her artwork has become uniquely known.
Words by Vivien Anderson Gallery
Billy Bain is a contemporary Indigenous Australian artist of Darug descent, the traditional Aboriginal people of Greater Western Sydney. His featured sculptures, Steve and Patty (2022) are from his first solo exhibition with a public gallery, Being Manly, at Manly Art Gallery and Museum.
Patty and Steve are two of several sculptures from The March Past, which is a traditional team event held during life saving carnivals. Heavily influenced by marches performed by military servicemen, the March Past represents the discipline of Surf Life Savers. The March is led by the bearer, who carries the flag which signifies which club or beach the march is from. Bain posits that the March Post is a ritualistic and militant performance of colonial ownership over the beach space. Bain places Indigenous figures in the March Past carrying a flag emblazoned with the name of the original custodians of the Manly area, Gamaragal.
Words by Manly Art Gallery and Museum
Anthony Walker is an artist from the Yiman, Ghungalu and Gurreng Gurreng peoples of Central Queensland. His featured work, Message Sticks / Memory Sticks (2023) is from his solo exhibition, Cavanbah, at Lone Goat Gallery, Byron Bay. The artworks, created on Arakwal Country, explore the concept of ‘caring for Country’. Drawing from his training as a Park Ranger, Walker brings his deep-rooted appreciation for the environment and his firsthand experiences of ‘caring for Country’ to life on the canvas. Through vibrant paintings that vividly express his impression of the Northern Rivers region, particularly the region’s recognisable coastline, Walker invites us to reflect on our own relationship with the area’s land, sea, and waterways.
Words by Lone Goat Gallery
Anthony Walker is licensed by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) to use native animal feathers under licence MWL000103757
Brian Robinson is a Torres Strait Islander artist from Thursday Island, currently based in Cairns, Queensland. His featured work, Bedhan Lag: The Land of the Kaiwalagal (2019) is his own interpretation of August 22nd 1770 when Lieutenant James Cook R.N. of HMB ENDEAVOUR landed on an island off the tip of Cape York in far North Queensland. He took possession of the east coast of Australia in the name of His Majesty King George III and named the island Possession Island. However, the Kaurareg people of the Kaiwalagal nation are the traditional custodians of Bedhan Lag (Possession Island) and have maintained links with Bedhan Lag through traditional lore and customs since Bipotaim, the time before (Ancestral Time).
The print features symbolism that reference both Western culture and Torres Strait Island imagery. Depictions range from characters from computer games, realistic sea creatures and fauna, historical European navigational instruments and Torres Strait figures wearing traditional masks and weaponry.
Words by Australian National Maritime Museum
Jenny Fraser was born in Far North Queensland and her old people originally hailed from Yugambeh Country in the Gold Coast Hinterland on the South East Queensland/Northern New South Wales border. Her work, RGB is a video study specific to contested sites. Most movies subconsciously say a lot about culture wars, often mirroring issues of belonging, identity, ownership, entitlement and consequent conflict.
The triptych explores common colonisation techniques through the “gods eye” of mainstream movies with an international reach. When witnessing a recurring action, some say "I’ve seen that movie". It is an ambiguous expression of dismissal / resignation / fatigue, recognising predictability and history repeating itself. Unless of course you haven’t seen the movie or are unaware of the history, then the expression is a way of opening up discussion. Naming and defining is a way of breaking down the power of neo-liberal actions. In this instance ‘name that movie’ is a video that’s set up like a guessing game...
Words by Jenny Fraser
Jennifer KEMARRE MARTINIELLO
Jennifer Kemarre Martiniello is a multidisciplinary artist of Aboriginal (Southern Arrernte), Chinese and Anglo-Celtic descent. Her featured works, Colonisation Invasion #1, Colonisation Healing #1 and Colonisation Healing #2 are from her Colonisation... (2022) series.
This exhibition challenges dominant socio-cultural taboos, breaks silences shrouding the unspoken. It shatters the silence around Colonisation by documenting my cancer journey. We need to stimulate conversations about both, because conversation reveals, demystifies and heals. Cancer is hidden, silent, can spread and occupy it’s host undetected unless it is actively looked for and identified. The most destructive and debilitating form of colonisation is ‘mental colonisation’, which invades, infects, multiplies and spreads, occupies and decimates beliefs, understandings, identity, ideas, behaviours, hopes and dreams. Like cancer, it infiltrates silently, occupies minds and goes undetected until deliberately sought out, identified and eliminated. Colonisation is a tumour in the consciousness of this nation that requires a ‘radical curative intervention’ if we are to survive and thrive.
Words by Jenni Kemarre Martiniello
Nicholas Currie is a descendant of the Mununjali clan of Yugambeh people of Brisbane, Beaudesert and Logan River, based in Naarm. His featured work, You in love?? (2022) is from his first presentation with FUTURES Gallery earlier this year. As an emerging artist, the DOG Paitning and Candles (2023) exhibition includes a suite of new paintings that are bold abstract reckonings of body and place, conceived through a mixed Indigenous Australian and European perspective. Currie eschews the brush for an immediate mode of mark making. Swaths of spray-paint are layered with thick paint spread with fingers, referencing reflections of light on water. In select works, the artist’s handprints create punctum.
Words by FUTURES Gallery
Hayley MILLAR BAKER
Hayley Millar Baker is a Gunditjmara and Djabwurrung visual artist born and based in South-West Melbourne, Australia. Her series, I Will Survive (2020) is featured in this year's Award.
I Will Survive is concerned with stories of caution, superstition, and survival in the bush that were passed on to Hayley as a child. These cautions came in the form of warnings, myths, stories of ghosts and hauntings from her Aboriginal and migrant parents and grandparents. Carried from a young age, these experiences and stories become embellished or accrue heightened emotional resonances – they shift and change in their constant retelling. While some recollections become fictionalised, others cinematic and profound. The stories and memories that are planted as early seeds grow and change as we experience life.
"Recalling memories formed in my childhood and ruminating on these stories in adulthood, I can’t help but dissect my memory’s influences and influencers, and what roles my Aboriginal and migrant parents and grandparents played in feeding lessons and myths into my subconscious." - ‘The truth is’ - Hayley Millar Baker.
An exhibition catalogue will be made available shortly.
Want to know more?
For more information about this exhibition, contact the exhibition curators