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  • Writer's pictureFiona Prior

The 2022 Archibald Prize

Updated: May 17, 2022

The Archibald Prize exhibition is with us again!

My very favourite Archibald associated exhibition took place last year. The 100 year retrospective of the prize was a fascinating walk through of our changing politics, attitudes and social mores, capturing many of the incremental changes and the giant, disruptive leaps that were triggered by wars, activism, natural and economic disasters and all. And no, it wasn’t all middle-aged white guys. If you missed it, here it Is again.

This year, we have, for the second time in the prize’s history, an Indigenous artist who has taken out the Archibald Prize, Blak Douglas with his portrait of Karla Dickens titled ‘Moby Dickens

image: ‘Moby Dickens’ by Blak Douglas

'Spiritually, we all know that Mother Earth is angry at us,’ says artist Blak Douglas, a Sydney-based artist with Dhungatti heritage.

His portrait of Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens, who lives on Bundjalung Country in Lismore, is a metaphor for the disastrous floods that hit northern NSW in early 2022. Its title references the 1851 novel 'Moby Dick', by Herman Melville. Douglas says, ‘Karla is Moby – a strong, prized figure pursued by foreign combatants.’

Another entry that is indicative of the sad realities of our time is the self portrait of refugee Mostafa Azimitabar.

image: ‘KNS088’ (self-portrait) by Mostafa Azimitabar

‘I made this self-portrait to share my story. My face looks outwards, showing the suffering I have experienced, but also my strength and determination. I painted it with a toothbrush using coffee and acrylic because I wasn’t allowed to have art supplies in detention (for fear that Mostafa would eat the paint to self-poison in his grief), so I used a toothbrush and coffee to make paintings on paper or whatever else I found. I chose the title ‘KNS088’ because for eight years I was called by this number instead of a name.

The message of my painting is love. Love is how we kill the monsters. We are all one family, connected by our humanity.’

I was drawn to the tiny work of Michael Zavros, almost photo-realist in technique and the size of an slightly enlarged snapshot.

image: 'At the British Museum' by Michael Zavros (13 x 20.4 cm)

‘People often photograph themselves in front of grand monuments, staking a claim on history and their moment with it. But this tiny painting represents a fleeting, humble and troubled moment before the great marbles of the Parthenon. I was away from home and so were they,’ says Zavros, a six-time Archibald finalist.


The two other major Australian art prizes held with the Archibald and housed in the Art Gallery of New South Wales are the Wynne and Sulman Prizes.

The number of Indigenous artists portraying the environment and/or personal ‘stories’ – historical and spiritual, would seem to be increasing each year.

The winner of the Roberts Family Prize 2022 (associated with the Wynne Prize), Sally Scales, has expressed a vibrant creation story.

image: ‘Wati Tjakura’ by Sally Scales

‘I am a Pitjantjatjara woman from Pipalyatjara in the far west of the Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. In this work, I am painting Aralya, the ancestral home for my family. My painting practice combines elements of the artistic styles of my two grandmothers, Kuntjiriya Mick and Kunmanara (Wawiriya) Burton, and my mother, Josephine Mick. The painting depicts the Tjukurpa (creation story) of Wati Tjakura, an edible skink lizard. The Wal Mala (army) of Wati Wanambi (snake men) from Malara came and threw spears at Wati Tjakura. He tried to escape but they killed him. His family came to grieve and bury him.

Nicolas Harding’s verdant ‘Eora’ took out the Wynne Prize

image: 'Eora' by Nichola Harding

‘Eora’ was the word used by Aboriginal people of Sydney to describe where they came from when asked by the British invaders what the place of first settlement was called.

My favoured pandanus trees are harbingers for the cabbage palms, while the ferns are influenced by our courtyard ferns that were shadowed by a neighbour’s eucalypt but perished when exposed to the sun’s heat after the tree was removed. Leafless fern trunks haunt Eora as warnings for the consequences of land-clearing.

And the winner of the Sulman Prize was Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro with 'Raiko and Shuten-dōji'

Image: 'Raiko and Shuten-dōji' by Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro

“This is our rendering of the fight between the warrior Raiko and the demon Shuten-dōji. The warrior fools the demon through tricking him with his many helmets. The Japanese folk design is usually painted on kites, but we have painted this scene on the fuselage of a Vietnam War–era helicopter.

One of the ideas we were thinking about while painting was the militarisation of objects of spectacle: fireworks to bullets, kites to warplanes, social media to insurrection. Why is it that objects of wonderment become the means of our own subjugation? It seems that we are the ones being bamboozled.

I've read a few reactions to this year's Archibald Prize - essentially, that the best paintings did not take out the awards. Seriously? Have the best paintings ever taken out the awards in the Archibald Prize?

To my knowledge the annual Archibald exhibition has always been about politics, profile, attitude ... with a bit of celebrity thrown in for good measure:)

Art Gallery of NSW

until 28 August

(do book online to avoid the queue)

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