A national art prize embracing diversity and inclusion

The Wyndham Art Prize will soon be open for entries from artists of all backgrounds and practices.

‘It’s basically a self-portrait, shirtless with bleached blond hair. I’m wearing a gold crown and gold chain, blue eyeshadow and blue nail polish. Just looking straight into the camera,’ said Gideon Wilonja, describing his photo Soft which won last year’s Wyndham Art Prize. 

This annual contemporary art prize attracts entries from some of the best artists across Australia and opens for entries on 1 February 2022. Established by Wyndham Art Gallery in 2015, it’s now one of the largest in Australia with in terms of the number of artists shortlisted and exhibited. 

This year’s entries will be judged by Maree Clarke, Andy Butler and Haley Miller Baker. Awards include the $15,000 non-acquisitive prize and a $5,000 acquisitive Local Emerging Art Prize.

Wilonja, 24, remains incredulous about winning the prize, which the self-described ‘queer black man’ says was a moment of affirmation that highlighted the importance of gender and race representation in the artistic arena. 

Initially, he admits, he was scared of entering the competition and exposing himself to the wider public. ‘We don’t really get to see black men be soft, right? Particularly black men with makeup on. We don’t get to see black men be vulnerable, especially in public spaces.’ 

Despite his reservations, Wilonja decided to honour his commitment to his craft and his identity. ‘This was a step in the right direction in terms of how I want to be known as an artist. I’m very much black and very much proud of it. And so I put in a work that was unapologetically queer and unapologetically black.’

Nonetheless, Wilonja was highly sceptical about his chances. 

‘I’m still quite new to the art world because I come from fashion … It’s still a very new space for me. I’m still exploring and still trying to figure out where I fit in into the art world,’ he told ArtsHub.

The Melbourne-based stylist, writer, creative director and artist came to Australia when he was 12, and has always known about his desire to create, regardless of form or medium. Wilonja does not differentiate between modes of creation; he considers himself a storyteller above all.

This creative versatility resonates with the ethos of the Wyndham Prize, which is open to artworks in any form and to emerging and established artists from all backgrounds. The 2021 Wyndham Art Prize attracted the highest number entries, totalling over 300 works, of which 84 artists were selected as finalists, including 20 who are local to Wyndham.

Appropriately, shortlisted works are exhibited side-by-side in a way that celebrates diversity rather than exclusivity. 

Does Wilonja have any advice for those considering entering the Wyndham Prize? ‘Create the type of work that you don’t see around you, the type of work that fulfills you. And also, something that brings you joy, because I am absolutely in love with the work that I submitted. That’s why I submitted it. So, it has to be something that comes from your heart and something that you fully stand behind.’

Visual artists practising in modes including painting, sculpture, printmaking, textiles, installation, photography, digital sound and video and more are encouraged to apply to the Wyndham Art Prize. Entries close on 1 April 2022. 

Learn more about applying for the Wyndham Art Prize 2022

Thuy On is Reviews Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She's the outgoing books editor of The Big issue. Her first book, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was published by University of Western Australia Press. Her next collection, Decadence, will be published in July 2022. Twitter: @thuy_on