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10 Years of VIAAs

A history of the Victorian Indigenous Art Awards

Ten years, 342 artworks exhibited, fifty-one major prize winners, six galleries — the Victorian Indigenous Art Awards have clocked up some numbers since their inception in 2005, but what impact have they had?

The Awards were initiated at an opportune time, tapping into a growing interest in Indigenous art and culture. They were set up by the Victorian Government, through what was then Arts Victoria (now Creative Victoria), with clear goals: to raise the profile of Indigenous art and culture in Victoria; to showcase the quality and diversity of art; and to create career opportunities for Victorian Indigenous artists, both commercial and artistic.

In the intervening decade, we have seen a significant growth in the state’s Indigenous arts sector, particularly in the visual arts. Exciting artists have emerged, consolidated their careers and been recognised nationally and internationally. Diverse styles, mediums and subjects have been explored and celebrated. The Victorian Indigenous Art Awards have played a role in this story, and they too have grown in profile, value and reach during this period. The Awards have helped to address the barriers artists face to exhibit or gain representation in commercial galleries. They have forged partnerships and created connections. They have uncovered and promoted new talent.

Ten years on, the program continues to create opportunities for artists, profile their work and showcase the diversity of Victoria’s visual arts sector. There is still work to be done: creating more pathways for emerging artists; benchmarking Victorian artists’ work nationally and internationally; and increasing the presence of established artists within public art collections and the investment market.

In the beginning...

In 2003, two years before the Awards started, Keerray Wurrong/Gunditjmara artist Vicki Couzens won the inaugural Deadly Art Award in recognition of her work. The Deadly Art Award, the first major prize dedicated to Victorian Indigenous art, became the centrepiece of the inaugural Victorian Indigenous Arts Awards, when they were developed in 2005 as part of the State Government’s Deadly Arts Business initiative. Couzens was one of the judges, alongside Aunty Dot Peters, Judith Ryan the Senior Curator of Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and Jason Eades, then CEO of the Koorie Heritage Trust. A modest ceremony was held in the Arts Victoria foyer in Southbank as part of the 2005 Melbourne International Arts Festival.

The $10,000 Deadly Art Award for ‘the most outstanding work by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artist living in Victoria’ was presented to Aunty Lorraine ‘Bunta’ Patten. Her charcoal on paper drawing of Mount Abrupt in Gariwerd, My Country, was selected from a field of twenty-five works. The judges commented that the work ‘leapt out at them’, and was a fresh response to the subject that evidenced the artist’s connection to that country. Works by Jennifer Mullet and Bronwyn Razem were highly commended. A new award, in honour of the late Yorta Yorta artist Lin Onus, was launched to recognise a young artist, aged under thirty. It was presented to Kye McGuire for her work Warraman. My Country was subsequently collected by the NGV, and three works from the finalist exhibition were collected by the Sunshine Institute of TAFE. Future Deadly Art Award winners, Trevor ‘Turbo’ Brown (whose work was collected by a well-known gallery director for his private collection) and Ben McKeown, who was highly commended for the Lin Onus Award, were among the finalists.

Aunty Lorraine ‘Bunta’ Patten with her charcoal on paper drawing of Mount Abrupt in Gariwerd, 'My Country', Winner of the 2005 Deadly Art Award

Aunty Lorraine ‘Bunta’ Patten with her charcoal on paper drawing of Mount Abrupt in Gariwerd, 'My Country', Winner of the 2005 Deadly Art Award

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