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Aurukun and Coolum artists win major awards at CIAF Art Awards

[by Pip Miller]


Winner of Premier’s Award for Excellence presented by Minister for the Arts, Leeanne Enoch is Aurukun artist and Elder, Janet Koongotema. Images by Paul Furse


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Queensland’s best Indigenous artists and organisations have been recognised among peers at Cairns Indigenous Art Fair’s (CIAF) opening party held in Cairns.


From approximately 500 eligible artworks spanning 14 Queensland art centres and 9 independent artists and exhibitors, the three major award winners were chosen for their response to the 2023 theme, Weaving our Future: Claiming our Sovereignty.


Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch announced Janet Koongotema as the winner of the Queensland Government Premier’s Award for Excellence with a prize of $25,000.


“This award, which recognises the most outstanding work at the fair, reinforces this Government’s commitment to elevating First Nations and celebrating our storytellers.


“The CIAF Art Awards provide an important platform to showcase local talent and support the development of art practices,” the Minister said.


“Our support for the CIAF Art Awards is part of a broader Queensland Government investment in CIAF to grow the international profile and markets for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts and artists, and ensure CIAF is positioned on the global stage, ahead of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.


“Congratulations to tonight’s major winners of the 2023 CIAF Art Awards on your welldeserved recognition,” Minister Enoch said.


The esteemed judging panel, comprising three of Australia’s leading First Nations artists and creative industry practitioners, Archie Moore, Tony Albert and Leitha Assan remarked on Janet Koongotema’s unique style and striking use of colour.


“Janet Koongotema asserts the artist as a senior leader. Her intrinsic knowledge of Country lays claiming to sovereignty, strength, and resilience of her people. Stunning work.”


Janet Koongotema’s work is presented by Red Dot Fine Gallery and Dreamcoat Paint Studio in association with the Wik and Kugu Art Centre. The artist is a highly respected Wik-Mungkan Elder from the Winchanam Clan and has exhibited work at CIAF since 2010.


Also receiving a major award this evening is the second-time winner (2021 and 2023) of the Art Centre Award sponsored by Cairns Regional Council, Pormpuraaw Art and Culture Centre and independent artist (exhibiting as part of CIAF’s Independent Artist Program), and proud Gureng Gureng\Gangalu man Darren Blackman, 2023 winner of the Innovation Award sponsored by Holding Redlich.


Both winners receive a prize of $10,000 each. The judges were impressed by Pormpuraaw Art and Culture Centre’s dynamic, optimistic, and inspirational space.


“The community had a clear vision and theme with a cohesive resonance which resonated with all three judges. Their presentation was creative and original, and it was great to see so many emerging artists reinvigorating the art centre.”


In determining the winner of the 2023 Innovation Award the judges said Darren Blackman’s works push the boundaries of weaving together new and traditional methodologies.


“His strong claim to sovereignty using text and fashion was fresh and complimented the theme in an imaginative way. Through breaking convention, he has cleverly and effectively challenged convention.”


CIAF General Manager Darrell Harris said the Art Awards, now in their seventh year, have sustained careers and changed the lives of past winners. In 2023 a boosted prize cache of $60,000 for 2023 places CIAF’s Art Awards among Australia’s richest art prizes which acknowledges and supports the practice of Queensland’s brightest First Nations artists.


“To secure an elevated commitment from the Queensland Government in 2023 from $15,000 to $25,000 for the Premier’s Award for Excellence is a significant show of support for CIAF and growth of the state’s Indigenous art movement,” Mr Harris said.







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