LEGENDARY Cape York artist Keith Wikmunea has cemented his legacy as one of the nation’s most prolific sculptors after he won the Telstra Art Award on Friday night.
The proud Thu’ Apalech man, who works out of the Wik and Kugu Aurukun Art Centre, wowed judges with his masterpiece called Ku’, Theewith & Kalampang: The White Cockatoo, Galah and the Wandering Dog.
“The sculpture is my totem. The white cockatoo is my main totem, and the galah is my mother’s main totem,” Keith said.
“The colours on this tree are specific to my clan, the Thu’ Apalech people.
“In Wik-Mungkan, my first spoken language, we call this tree ‘yuk thanchal’.
“This tree is also known as milkwood in English and is the same tree that my ancestors have been using since the beginning of time to create their artefacts.”
Keith said it took two months to complete the towering sculpture.
“Chip away at it day by day. It takes a long time,” he said.
When asked what he would do with the $100,000 prize money for taking out the top billing at the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, Keith said: “I’m going to buy myself a boat.
“Winning this award has made me feel really good and my partner and my family are really proud of me. When I told my kids the news they were really happy and that made me feel good inside.”
Keith said there was a lot of sentiment behind his art.
“These sculptural practices come from the beginning,” he said.
“The old people showed us how to collect the milkwood … we mostly use this when we carve.
“The dog that I made has a songline. This story comes from the beginning of time.
“Our old people passed this knowledge to us and that’s what we still do today; we carve these stories.”
The sculptor praised the Wik and Kugu Arts Centre.
“The art centre is good for our community,” Keith said.
“We pass on our cultural knowledge to our children here, just like when I was young.”
Adam Worrall, the director of Museum and Art Galley of the Northern Territory praised Keith for his award-winning piece.
“He is truly a master carver and I am awed with the might of his work and its celebration of his culture as a Thu’ Apalech man from the Cape York Peninsula,” Mr Worrall said.
“I extend my warmest congratulations to all the selected finalists and category winners.
“Over the past 40 years, Telstra NATSIAA has provided a snapshot of the magnificent artworks currently being created around the country. I am filled with immense pride and excitement for the remarkable journey that NATSIAA has undertaken.
“I express my deepest gratitude to the individuals and communities who have contributed to the awards and their success.”
Work on Paper Award: Brenda Croft
General Painting Award: Julie Nangala Robertson
Multimedia Award: Jimmy John Thaiday
Bark Painting Award: Owen Yalandja
Wandjuk Marika 3D Award: Anne Nginyangka Thompson
Emerging Artist Award: Dhalmula Burarrwaŋa