The winners of the 2020 First Nations Arts Awards have been announced during a live streamed ceremony at the Sydney Opera House. Respected elders Alison Milyika Carroll and Djon Mundine OAM were honoured with the Red Ochre Awards for Lifetime Achievement, while Thea Anamara Perkins won the 2020 Dreaming Award for a young and emerging artist, and Maree Clarke was the recipient of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Fellowship. The Awards acknowledge and celebrate the extraordinary creativity and lifetime achievements of First Nations artists, and are held annually on May 27 to mark the anniversary of the 1967 referendum.

Alison Milyika Carroll. Photo © Meg Hansen

“For the first time, everyone in Australia and globally had the opportunity to join the celebration of these outstanding First Nations artists,” said Deputy Chair of the Australia Council for the Arts and event co-host, Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin. “It was incredibly powerful to be able to come together online in this way to recognise and celebrate the centrality of First Nations artists to Australian culture and share that with a global audience.”

Alison Milyika Carroll is a senior Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara woman. Her artistic practice, which spans four decades, encompasses batik, ceramics and painting, and communicates both Walka (design) and Tjukurpa (Law, Story and Dreaming). She is the current Chair of Ernabella Arts, Pukatja Community, APY Lands and has been involved with the organisation as an artist and a Director. She also works with Ku Arts, NPY Women’s Council and has held advisory roles on projects such as Songlines at the National Museum of Australia.

Djon Mundine is a Bandjalung man and a foundational figure in Australian art. He was art and craft adviser at Milingimbi in 1979, and curator at Bula-Bula Arts in Ramingining in Arnhem Land Aboriginal communities for 16 years. He has held senior curatorial positions at the National Museum of Australia, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Queensland Art Gallery and more, while also working with regional and community-based organisations across Australia.

Thea Anamara Perkins is an Arrernte and Kalkadoon woman. Raised and based in Sydney, she has family ties to the Redfern community and engages with the area through her painting and installation practice. In 2018 she was a lead artist participating in the restoration of the iconic 40,000 Years mural in Redfern. She has held solo exhibitions at Firstdraft gallery and Our Neon Foe, as well as exhibiting at TARNANTHI. Perkins was a finalist in the Archibald Prize for her portrait of contemporary Aboriginal artist Christian Thompson. She was also a finalist for the Brett Whiteley travelling scholarship.

Maree Clarke is a Yorta Yorta/Wamba Wamba/Mutti Mutti/Boonwurrung woman. She is an independent multi-disciplinary artist and curator, with a 30-year history of working in the contemporary and cultural First Nations arts sector. She is a leading possum skin artist, also working with kangaroo teeth, echidna quills, glass, photography and more.

Also honoured were Lydia Fairhall and SJ Norman, who received the Community Arts and Cultural Development Fellowship and Emerging and Experimental Arts Fellowship respectively. The Awards also acknowledged the many First Nations artists who have received other Australia Council awards in the last year including Ryan Clapham aka DOBBY (First Nations Emerging Career Development Award); Dion Beasley (Australia Council National Arts and Disability Award – Emerging Artist); r e a (Australia Council Award for Emerging and Experimental Arts); and Brook Andrew (Australia Council Award for Visual Arts).

The event was co-hosted by Wesley Enoch, Chair of the Australia Council’s First Nations Art Strategy Panel. The ceremony featured yidaki players performing from six locations across Australia and a live performance by the Stiff Gins (Yuwaalaraay, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta Nations) live from the Sydney Opera House.

The 2020 First Nations Arts Awards will be broadcast on NITV on Sunday 31 May from 6:30pm, and available on SBS OnDemand.