In 1956, Sir William Dargie, known for his academic portraits of prominent Australians, was awarded the Archibald Award for his painting of the Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira. Vincent Namatjira, the great-grandson of the subject, won the Archibald Award for this year.

Namatjira Junior’s subject was a double portrait of himself, and Adam Goodes entitled Stand Strong for Who You Are. In Namatjira’s signature style, the painting shows two people firmly holding hands.

We see Goodes, the champion footballer in the background, Goodes defending the Aboriginal flag, and Goodes addressing racial abuse. The blood red footprints show the way they have walked. This is the art created by a generation who refuses to be beaten down.

More than an art prize

The trustees appointed by Jules Francois Archibald in his will to judge the prize he created are, with two exceptions, non-artists. Their decision is not purely aesthetic.

I’ve argued for years that the Archibald prize is a social-history prize and not an art award. The guardians of New South Wales visual cultural heritage, who announced the first Indigenous prize winner in its history this year, are promoting the importance of integrity and encouraging Aboriginal people to be proud. The guardians of New South Wales’ visual cultural heritage are also saying that it is not a given that white men from a particular class will win the prize.

Vincent Namatjira, the winner of the award. AGNSW/Meg Hansen/Iwantja Arts

This painting, while beautiful, isn’t as good as his 2018 entry Self-portrait in the Studio, which was later added to the collection of the gallery. This painting showed his studio and his love for Chuck Berry. In the background, it also included Albert’s legacy.

Albert Namatjira’s legacy can be seen in all of the awards. Each Aboriginal artist that I know knows how he used the Western grammar to paint his own country. Everyone I’ve met who is Aboriginal knows that he was spit out and gnawed by colonial law. His art is a reminder for successive generations to be artists.

Read more: Terra nullius interruptus: Captain James Cook and absent presence in First Nations art

Landscape legacy

Hubert Pareroultja’s (West MacDonnell Ranges NT) is this year’s Wynne prize winning painting. The Wynne prize is given annually to “the best oil or watercolour landscape painting of Australian scenery or the best example in figure sculpture by Australian artist.”

It is a large painting, beautifully painted in a style that is similar to Namatjira’s landscapes. It also has an otherworldly feel because of the detail.

Pareroultja, a Western Aranda native, is the artist behind this painting. Those who are familiar with Namatjira’s country will recognize it. The Wynne prize is not a new award for Aboriginal artists, but it is the first time that a painting from the same visual and cultural tradition of Namatjira was so honored.

Hubert Pareroultja, Tjoritja, (West MacDonnell Ranges NT), 2020 Wynne Prize winner. AGNSW/Mim Stirling

Artists’ Choice

The “>Marikit Santiago for The Divine, a tribute of her three children.

They are painted with gold haloes. She consciously drew on her Filippina heritage and the importance of her children in her life. Even the subjects of the work were involved in its intricate patterning.

The Divine by Marikit Santiago, winner of 2020 Sulman Prize. AGNSW/Jenni Carter

The Archibald, Wynne and Sulman are judged the morning before the announcements. Santiago was therefore the only artist present physically when David Gonski made the announcement.

AGNSW has a different type of announcement. Author: Author supplied (no reuse).

The gallery was dominated this year by television cameras, a crew and a bank of computers. It was unnerving to hear the silence before AGNSW director Michael Brand announced Gonski. It was smooth to switch over to the other winners, who were streamed from their studios located in the Northern Territory. This art prize was a spectacular production during COVID-19.