Artist Brian Robinson wins Kate Challis RAKA 2023 Award
The Faculty of Arts is delighted to announce that painter, printmaker and sculptor Brian Robinson has won the 2023 Kate Challis RAKA Award for his contribution to the visual arts.
Brian Robinson. Photo by James Henry.
RAKA, which means 'five' in the Pintupi language, is awarded annually to an Indigenous artist for a work in one of five categories: creative prose, poetry, script writing, drama and visual arts.
In bestowing the Award, the selection committee said they were impressed with Robinson’s “bold designs” and ability to “effortlessly blend reality with fantasy by incorporating powerful cultural references and pop iconography in [his] work.
“The selection committee acknowledge 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.”
Mr Robinson grew up on Waiben (Thursday Island) and has been inspired by his Torres Strait Islander heritage throughout his career, alongside cultural influences from ancestral connections with the Wuthathi people from Cape York Peninsula, the Dayak people of Sarawak, and family in the Philippines and Scotland.
In 1999, he was the first Torres Strait Islander to be appointed to the Board of Trustees of the Queensland Art Gallery, and collaborated with the National Museum of Australia to develop an exhibition for their Gallery of First Australians. He dedicated 14 years to working at the Cairns Regional Gallery, as Exhibitions Curator, Exhibition Manager and finally as Deputy Director.
Robinson’s work is held in major Australian collections, including at the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, and the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, and he has exhibited extensively in Australia and overseas. In addition to his solo practice, he has made significant contributions to public art in cities across the country, including his iconic stainless steel Woven Fish (2003) and Reef Guardian (2017) at the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon.
Brian Robinson and Kate Challis, granddaughter of Professor Emeritus Bernard Smith and Kate Challis.
In accepting the award, Mr Robinson said:
“I am extremely honoured and feel very privileged to be receiving such an important award, the Kate Challis RAKA Award, which was established to help advance recognition of Indigenous artistic achievements and creativity in Australia. I am earnestly grateful for the recognition I have received for my work because I am positive that every other applicant for this award was as capable of winning, especially with the outstanding work that everyone produces.”
The RAKA, or Ruth Adeney Koori Award, is an award for Indigenous creative artists established by the eminent art and cultural historian Professor Emeritus Bernard Smith. It is named to honour the memory of his late wife, Kate Challis, who was known in her youth as Ruth Adeney.
Judges for the 2023 Award include: Dr Kim Goodwin, lecturer in the Arts and Cultural Management program, Faculty of Arts (Chair); Hannah Presley, Senior Curator, Museums and Collections, University of Melbourne; Dale Wandin, Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung artist and member of the Australian Centre Advisory Board; Elizabeth Heathcote, daughter of Professor Emeritus Bernard Smith and Kate Challis; Kate Challis, granddaughter of Professor Emeritus Bernard Smith and Kate Challis.
Brian Robinson's full artist statement:
I acknowledge the First Australians as the traditional custodians of the continent, whose cultures and customs have nurtured, and continue to nurture this land, since men and women awoke from the great dream. I honour the presence of these ancestors who reside in the imagination of this land and whose irrepressible spirituality flows through all creation. They knew this land; they lived on this land, and they died on this land.
My name is Brian Robinson, and I am a descendant of the Maluyligal people of Torres Strait, the Wuthathi people from Cape York Peninsula, the Dayak people of Sarawak as well as having ancestral lineage to the Villaflor family of the Philippines and the Salmon family of Scotland. My family are fisher folk whose Roman Catholic faith exists in synergy with traditional spirituality.
I commenced a fulltime arts practice in 2010 after spending 14 years working as an Exhibitions Curator, Exhibition Manager and Deputy Director at Cairns Regional Gallery, a place that was often my first home. The outside world would melt away as I entered the rear security door into the wonderful realm of artistic expression.
I am extremely honoured and feel very privileged to be receiving such an important award, the Kate Challis RAKA Award, which was established to help advance recognition of Indigenous artistic achievements and creativity in Australia. I am earnestly grateful for the recognition I have received for my work because I am positive that every other applicant for this award was as capable of winning, especially with the outstanding work that everyone produces.
Creativity does not thrive in solitude. It can be a frustrating master and a reluctant slave, but the end results are enormously satisfying. Creativity relies on ambitious thoughts, big dreams, quiet reflection, and personal exploration. I find it a complex process.
My work is punctuated with mischief and humour, and it exudes a joyful ebullience that is at once exciting and infectious. Navigating a distinct space-time continuum, these compelling works act as a personal mnemonic for me - particular in its detail, specific in its tastes - a unique assemblage of icons, emblems and narratives that channel a continued connection to the past.
My participation in this award exhibition would not have been possible without the inspiration and support I receive from my wife Tanya and children Amber, Raidon and Leonardo. The support, humour, and mountains of toys and other paraphernalia they provide are the foundation of my artistic life. I would also like to acknowledge the dedication and commitment of my agents Diane and Dan Mossenson of Mossenson Galleries and John Stafford and Jodie Cox of OneSpace, for whom I have the deepest respect, and from whom I derived the strength to challenge myself time and time again.
I sincerely thank and offer my support to each and every one of the participating artists, the Smith Family and any of their descendants here today, the selection panel and their unenviable task of deciphering artworks and applications to choose a winner, Dean Reverend Professor Russell Goulbourne and the Faculty of Arts at The University of Melbourne for continuing on with the legacy and good will of eminent art and cultural historian Professor Emeritus Bernard Smith who founded the award in memory of his late wife, Kate Challis.
Big dreams are essential for nurturing creativity. When I am tentative; when I rely too much on the opinions of others; when I don't imagine greatness, I am wasteful of my skills and talents. I still find it difficult to say my dreams out loud, but each time I gather my courage to actually name my longings I find that it is easier to make my dreams come true. Thank you.