10 May 2023

National recognition for Aurukun’s senior artists

| Sarah Martin
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Keith Wikmunea is famous for his colourful camp dog carvings.

TWO Aurukun artists are in the running for Australia’s richest art awards after being named as finalists in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Art Awards.

Janet Koongotema and Keith Wikmunea could win $100,000 for the main prize, or $15,000 across a range of categories, with the winners announced in Darwin in October.

Ms Koongotema was also chosen as a finalist from more than 700 entries in the 126-year-old Wynne Prize, with her painting of Archer River on display in the Art Gallery of New South Wales until September.

Ms Koongotema said she was humbled to have her work recognised by such prestigious awards.

“I’m 86 and I’m still doing it, still working hard,” she told Cape York Weekly.

“I learnt when I was 20 and later I was teaching; the girls and women, I taught them to paint.”

Aurukun mayor Keri Tamwoy congratulated the two hometown artists, and said she was very proud of their achievements.

“It’s inspiring to see senior artists like Granny Janet carrying on with that vision, especially when she is communicating through her artwork and telling the stories that keep us connected to each other and to country,” Cr Tamwoy said.

‘Granny Janet’ is still producing top level art at 86 years of age.

The pair are among a group of artists working together at Aurukun’s Wik and Kugu Arts Centre.

Ms Koongotema is known for her large, colourful landscapes, while Mr Wikmunea carves the iconic “camp dogs” and is also a painter.

Art centre manager Gabriel Waterman said recognition of the two artists’ work in the national awards had placed them in elite company.

“The Wynne Prize has given Janet recognition as a landscape artist among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous contemporary artists,” he said.

“She is one of the most prolific artists at the centre; we have strong female representation in the cultural art produced at the centre.

“It’s a positive career for women as they can practice their culture and bring money into the community for their families.”

The winner of the Wynne Prize, fellow Indigenous artist Zaachariaha Fielding, was announced on Thursday.

Coen artist Naomi Hobson was also a finalist in the prestigious art competition for her colourful contemporary depiction of golden wattle and eucalyptus trees.

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