Is the myth of ‘sameness’ unwarranted across the emerging artist landscape?

When it comes to the emerging artist landscape in Australia, how accurate is a perception of "sameness" or are we getting that wrong?
contemporary artwork in venue carriageworks

Often one approaches sweeping survey exhibitions of the emerging art scene with a sense of trepidation and cynicism. “They’re all the same,” may be the comment thrown around, or “there’s nothing new”. But is this indeed true?

ArtsHub has taken a helicopter view over this year’s season of emerging art award exhibitions and has run the numbers to ascertain whether there has been a repetitive tic of familiar favourites – or it is just a myth?

Concurrently, there are three high-profile exhibitions on show across three states, with another shortlist announced last week for presentation later in the year. They are: the Ramsay Art Prize 2023, the 2023 NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging) and the churchie emerging art prize 2023 with the Primavera 2023: Young Australian Artists to open in September.

Of the 52 artists selected across the four exhibitions, there was surprisingly no overlap in artists.

Add to that, recipients of 2023 ACE Studio Program artists (Adelaide Contemporary Experimental), and the latest crop of the Brett Whiteley Travelling Scholarship finalists (2022) – both selection-based and offering opportunities for artists in their early career – they bring the tally of artists up to 68, with only two overlaps arising.

That remains a staggeringly low percentage. And even trying to complicate – or break that picture – by adding The National 4: Australian Art Now (with over 80 artists) and Melbourne Now (exhibiting over 200 artists and designers), reveals only six extra overlaps with our list. That takes the total to just eight artists repeated across these high-profile exhibitions, and what equates to a whopping pool of around 398 artists.

So, what do these numbers tell us? First, that the sector has a wealth of new talent bubbling up. The more interesting story here, however, is that our curators are looking far and wide to find fresh emerging talent, and are making brave decisions in forefronting them.

Joel Spring, ‘TERRA- Memory + Soil’, 2022. In collaboration with Victoria Pham. Installation view, West Space, Melbourne. Currently part of the 2023 churchie emerging art award, IMA, Brisbane. Photo: Janelle Low.

Trend not in name: the myth dispelled

The results would dispel a foregone conclusion that, as an early career artist, it is hard to get the eye of curators. On the contrary. The numbers spell out “opportunity” for them.

Momentum is one of the greatest things that an early career artist can have – to harness these moments to create visibility, which inevitably leads to greater awareness and opportunity. They effectively become shopping lists for curators to build their awareness of the emerging scene. This is why these numbers are so curious, for their lack of overlap.

Perhaps the words of Talia Smith, curator of this year’s Primavera exhibition, offer some insight: ‘The exhibition considers the idea of the “collective body” and the ways in which communities and growing movements attempt to question, challenge and manoeuvre through failing societal structures.’

Read: Is social media the new curators’ portfolio?

These artists are loud advocates for social justice in our times, often bearing witness to events of the day. This, in part, has pushed them into the light (and the eye of curators) aided by the kind of traction that social media channels offer.

Amanda Bennetts, ‘The Spectacle of the Antagonist’, 2022. Multi-channel video. Installation view, Metro Arts, Brisbane. Finalist 2023 churchie emerging art prize. Photo: Louis Lim.

Meeting point is not a roll call, but a hunger for diversity

Taking a deeper dive into this landscape, of the 68 artists selected for these emerging artist awards and exhibitions, 17 identify with their First Nations heritage and culture, that is 25% or a quarter of the selected artists.

Further to that, another 14 artists draw upon, and identity with, their diverse cultural upbringing as shaping what they make. This group of artists points to the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Malta, Italy, Venezuela, Africa, Hong Kong/China, Vietnam, Korea and Bosnia.

Visit the Amplify CollectiveArtsHub’s platform for diverse voices.

This brings the group of artists from diverse and First Nations backgrounds up to 46%. A further three artists identify as neurodiverse.

It is also heartening that the wave of artists bubbling up into our institutions is more reflective of an Australian identity today, and the layers and nuances of storytelling that brings with it.

From a geographic standpoint, 23 artists were drawn from New South Wales, 12 from Western Australia, and nine each from Victoria, South Australia and Queensland. Two artists live in the Northern Territory. No artists living in Tasmania or the ACT made the cut this year. While this is a slightly skewed figure as some of these opportunities are location specific, it nevertheless points to a broadening of the curatorial lens away from the traditional dominance of Melbourne and Sydney. Counter to that, nearly all artists remain city-based with only a few exceptions.

Read: Six curators talk about the artists on their radar

What do all these numbers and biographical data mean, when it comes down to making art?

Of the 68 artists across these exhibitions and awards, most describe themselves as multidisciplinary artists, and are not bound by any one medium to tell their story. Installation is the preferred genre, often shaped out with elements that are moving images, digital processes or sculptural.

There is also a strong vernacular of materiality embedded in the practice of many of these artists, whether it be the use of textiles, found materials, ceramics, mirrors, hand-made materials or more. This is less an outcome of coming off the wave of the makers movement of the past decade, but rather a renewed drive for a sense of humanity, and a push-back in the face of rising technologies such as AI.

There is also a strong sense of witness, disputed legacies or social justice across this group. To again call on Talia Smith’s words about this year’s Primavera selection (which could be more broadly applied to this larger lens): ‘What brings these artists together is the way they reckon with the perils of history, education, culture and language to question authoritative structures and systems.’

In short, if we are to take these numbers as a sign of where the future of the visual arts sector is heading, it would appear that we are in exciting times that are more equitable and inclusive.

Read: From emerging to mid-career: advice from artists

Dates to know

NSW Minister for the Arts, John Graham with Morgan Hogg, winner of the 2023 NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging). Photo: Anna Kucera.

The artists shaping today

And for the curious, who sits within that field of now?

  • Abdul Abdullah (NSW), 2023 Ramsay and The National 4. Identifies as a Muslim with Malay/Indonesian and Australian heritage.
  • Carla Adams (WA), 2023 Ramsay. Living with a progressive neurological disease.
  • Badra Aji (Vic), 2023 Ramsay. Philippine heritage.
  • Tiyan Baker (NSW), Primavera 2023. A Malaysian Bidayǔh-Anglo Australian artist.
  • Christopher Bassi (Qld), Primavera 2023 and The National 4. Meriam, Yupungathi and British descent.
  • Alrey Batol (Qld), 2023 churchie. Philippine heritage.
  • Amanda Bennetts (Qld), 2023 churchie. Living with a progressive neurological disease.
  • Tom Blake (NSW/WA), 2023 Ramsay.
  • Dylan Bolger (Qld), 2023 churchie. Maiawali, Karuwali, Pitta Pitta and Gomeroi peoples.
  • Moorina Bonini (Vic), Primavera 2023 and Melbourne Now 2023. Yorta Yorta, Wurundjeri and Wiradjuri peoples.
  • Yuriyal Eric Bridgeman (Qld), 2023 Ramsay. Wahgi Valley, Jiwaka Province, Papua New Guinea.
  • Luke Brennan (NSW), 2023 churchie.
  • Matthew Brown (WA), 2023 churchie.
  • Emma Buswell (WA), 2023 Ramsay
  • Teresa Busuttil (SA), 2023 ACE Studio Program artists (ACE). Maltese heritage.
  • Georgia Button (SA), 2023 ACE Studio Program artists (ACE).
  • Jacobus Capone (WA), 2023 Ramsay.
  • Sundari Carmody (SA), 2023 Ramsay. Grew up in Bali, Indonesia.
  • Mark Maurangi Carrol (NSW), 2022 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship. Cook Islands heritage. 
  • Amelia Carroll (NSW), 2022 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship.
  • Brodie Cullen (NSW), 2022 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship.
  • Henry Curchod (NSW), 2023 Ramsay. Born US.
  • Brad Darkson (SA), 2023 ACE Studio Program artists (ACE). Lineages to Narungga and other nations in South Australia.
  • Sarah Drinan (NT/Vic), 2023 Ramsay and 2022 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship.
  • Zaachariaha Fielding (SA), 2022 Ramsay. Living on Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands.
  • Aidan Gageler (NSW), 2023 Ramsay.
  • Emily Galicek (NSW), 2022 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship.
  • Olive Gill-Hille (WA), 2023 Ramsay.
  • Pascale Giorgi (WA), 2023 Ramsay. Italo-Australian heritage.
  • Maddison Gibbs (NSW), 2023 NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging). Barkindji woman.
  • Bill Hawkins (Vic), 2022 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship. Living with mental illness.
  • Morgan Hogg (NSW), 2023 NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging), winner. Kūki Airani (Cook Islands) heritage
  • Nadia Hernández (Vic), 2023 Ramsay. Venezuelan heritage.
  • Miranda Hine (Qld), 2022 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship.
  • Drew Connor Holland (NSW), 2022 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship.
  • Alana Hunt (WA/NSW), 2023 Ramsay.
  • Nikki Lam (Vic), Primavera 2023 and Melbourne Now. Hong Kong heritage.
  • Alfred Lowe (SA), 2023 Ramsay. Arrernte man.
  • Gian Manik (Vic), 2023 Ramsay.
  • Jennifer Matthews (Vic), 2023 ACE Studio Program artists (ACE).
  • Raf McDonald (NSW), 2023 churchie and Melbourne Now.
  • Daniel McKewen (Qld), 2023 Ramsay.
  • Corben Mudjandi (WA), 2023 churchie. Traditional owner of Jabiru and parts of Kakadu and West Arnhem.
  • Nadia Odlum (NSW), 2023 NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging).
  • Melody Paloma (Vic), 2023 churchie.
  • Sarah Poulgrain (Qld), Primavera 2023.
  • Amy Perejuan-Capone (WA), 2023 Ramsay.
  • Alison Puruntatameri (NT), 2023 Ramsay. Pirlangimpi, Melville Island.
  • Roberta Joy Rich (Vic), 2023 churchie.  Southern African Cape identity.
  • JD Reforma (NSW), 2023 Ramsay.
  • Teho Ropeyarn (Qld), 2023 Ramsay and The National 4. Angkamuthi and Yadhaykana people of far-north Cape York Peninsula.
  • Nina Radonja (NSW), 2022 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship. Bosnian heritage.
  • Oliver Scherer (NSW), 2022 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship.
  • Flin Sharp (NSW), 2022 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship.
  • Joel Sherwood Spring (NSW), 2023 churchie. Wiradjuri artist.
  • Yasmin Smith (NSW), 2023 Ramsay.
  • Ida Sophia (SA) 2023 Ramsay, winner.
  • Jess Tan (WA), 2023 churchie.
  • Debbie Taylor Worley (NSW), 2023 churchie. Identifies with ancestral Gamilaraay land.
  • Ash Tower (SA), 2023 churchie.
  • Truc Truong (SA), Primavera 2023 and 2023 ACE Studio Program artists (ACE). Vietnamese heritage.  
  • EJ Son (NSW), 2023 NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging). Korean Australian.
  • Natalie (Quan Yau) Tso (NSW), 2023 NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging). Hong Kong-Australian.
  • Min Wong (NSW), 2023 NSW Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging). Chinese heritage.
  • Katie West (WA), 2023 Ramsay and The National 4. Yindjibarndi woman.
  • Corban Clause Williams (WA), 2023 Ramsay. Manyjilyjarra artist, Pilbara region.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina