The Power Publications Award for Indigenous Art Writing seeks to recognise and encourage the work of Indigenous writers who are producing compelling, persuasively argued texts, and whose body of work constitutes a rich engagement with visual culture. We are pleased to announce that this year’s recipient of the award is Cara Pinchbeck, Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, Art Gallery of NSW for her catalogue essay “Taking Memories Back” for the exhibition Art from Milingimbi: Taking Memories Back.
This prize celebrates a significant contribution made by an Indigenous writer on the topic of Australian art. The awardee is recognised with a $5,000 prize, supported by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund. This year the prize will help to fund future exhibitions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Our selection committee of Matt Poll, Stephen Gilchrist and Mark Ledbury considered a range of writing and are pleased to announce the winner and shortlisted works.
FROM THE COMMITTEE
Cara Pinchbeck, “Taking Memories Back” in Art from Milingimbi: Taking Memories Back, Cara Pinchbeck, Lindy Allen and Louise Hamby, Sydney, Art Gallery Of Nsw, 2016.
The prize committee was pleased to note the wide variety of genres and outlets for writing on Indigenous art by Indigenous authors this year, but recognised that this very variety—including catalogue essays for state and private gallery exhibitions, art criticism in monthly journals and online, and scholarly peer-reviewed essays—meant weighing the merits and the ambitions of writing across various genre constraints. The winning work is not only a standout within the genre of the catalogue essay, but provides a compelling argument for the importance of the catalogue essay as a considered contribution to art-historical discourse.
The committee noted that Pinchbeck’s essay, “Taking Memories Back”, focused on her curatorial project in Art from Milingimbi:Taking Memories Back, represents a thoughtful, persistent and much-needed commitment to collection-based scholarship. Dedicated collection research and its careful illumination by collecting institutions was noted by the committee as a vital contribution to the communication of Indigenous histories and cultural narratives. The ability to tell stories with objects is central to the role of the scholar-curator and our award recognises these skills in Pinchbeck’s writing. The essay signals the importance of engaging with communities to surface the different registers embedded within these objects and honour this intangible cultural knowledge. We note that such art-historical and methodological approaches feature in plans for new museums, such as Sydney Modern and the Chau Chak Wing museum of the University of Sydney.
Pinchbeck’s writing explores the complex and often fraught notion of contact in a way that is both clearly expressed and culturally assertive, and it provides series of fertile starting points for larger conversations around Makarrata ceremony and still-ongoing reconciliation processes. The committee considers the patient, detailed historical research that lies behind this writing a key contribution to the field of art history—one that honours the collection it describes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cara Pinchbeck is a member of the Kamilaroi community of northern New South Wales and is senior curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Her recent exhibitions and publications include: Noŋgirrŋa Marawili: From My Heart and Mind (2018), Art from Milingimbi: Taking Memories Back (2016), When Silence Falls (2015) and Yirrkala Drawings (2013). Cara was a curatorial adviser for the ABC television series, Art+Soul, produced by Hibiscus Films in 2010, and to the artistic director of the 20th Biennale of Sydney, Stephanie Rosenthal, in 2016. She recently contributed written entries to the publications Colony, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2018), Defying Empire, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra (2017) and Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia, Nevada Museum of Art (2016).
The committee also commends the following shortlisted works:
Kimberley Moulton “Sovereign Art and the Colonial Canon; Are we Lost until we are Found?” in Sovereignty, edited by Paola Balla and Max Delany. Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 2016.
We admire Moulton’s narrative drive, the awareness of art-historical and art-critical trends, and most of all the sincerity of this essay, which addresses not so much the ins and outs of a specific canon as the idea of canonicity in art history and in museum practice. The piece argues passionately for an indigenised and nuanced revision of the idea of a traditional canon, and for a rebalancing and rethinking of our ways of teaching and thinking art.
Jessyca Hutchens, “Down Under World: Christian Thompson at the Pitt Rivers Museum”, Artlink, volume 37, issue 2 (June 2017).
Hutchens’ piece is a finely crafted work of art criticism, addressing one specific body of work in one context (Christian Thompson’s work, exhibited in Oxford) with admirable clarity, specificity and nuance, as well as a thorough scholarly knowledge. The committee particularly enjoyed the piece’s attention to historical, cultural and visual detail and noted that deep attention to individual artworks was a key skill in successful art writing, and amply demonstrated here.
Myles Russell Cook “Percy Leason and the Last Victorian Aborigines: A Legacy of Extinction”, in Brave New World: Australia 1930s, edited by Elena Taylor and Isobel Crombie, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2017.
The committee noted how important this research and writing is in addressing the still-fraught and complex issue of memorialising “dying races”, and was impressed with the marshalling of both anthropological and art-historical knowledge in the essay. The committee also commends this as another significant collection-centred scholarly contribution and looks forward to seeing more institutions fostering deep scholarship and engagement with museum, gallery and library collections by Indigenous curators and scholars.
Stephen Gilchrist, Associate Lecturer in Indigenous Art, University of Sydney;
Mark Ledbury, Power Professor of Art and Visual Culture and Director of the Power Institute;
Matt Poll, Curator of Indigenous Heritage and Repatriation Project, Macleay Museum.