Enter a future-thinking prize that expands the idea of ‘landscape’

Pushing the boundaries of a landscape prize, the new Girra: Fraser Coast National Art Prize welcomes diverse visual forms to interrogate our broader relationship with the environment.

2023 marks the launch of Girra: Fraser Coast National Art Prize, a new biennial award inviting deep reflection on the environment in which we live and the connections between people and place. 

The theme is inspired by K’gari (Fraser Island), the world’s largest sand island, and its surrounding waters, recognised as the world’s first Whale Heritage Site. 

Hervey Bay Regional Gallery Director, Ashleigh Whatling explains: ‘When we had this opportunity to develop an acquisitive art prize to grow our collection, we started thinking about, “What do we want this collection to represent?” We looked at what makes the Fraser Coast special.’

She continues: ‘Girra is the Butchulla word for sand, so we wanted to use sand as a provocation and you can unpack that in a lot of ways. Sand is representative of time and scale, and we’d love to use this to inspire artists to think about their specific surroundings, what shapes their environment and their experience of the landscape.’

The emphasis of the theme is not on landscape, but rather our human connection and engagement with it. ‘Girra is not another landscape prize,’ says Whatling. Rather, artists are invited to take an expanded approach to exploring what makes their own surroundings unique and significant. 

Lake Mackenzie, a perched lake on K’Gari in the Great Sandy National Park. Image: Adobe Stock Image.

A $25,000 major acquisitive prize will be offered to the winner and shortlisted works will be in the running for the $2000 People’s Choice Award. 

Whatling will be on the judging panel, alongside Badjtala artist Dr Fiona Foley, who recently exhibited a major video commission by Hervey Bay Regional Gallery, and Senior Curator, University of Queensland Art Museum, Peta Rake. 

Every biennial iteration will welcome different established artists and experts on the judging panel, making it a rewarding exposure opportunity for the entrants. 

Whatling says: ‘I really encourage a lot of artists to enter because even if they don’t make it to the shortlist, that judging panel has seen your work now. It’s a chance for curators like Peta to learn your name, so entering an art prize is never a useless exercise.’

Opportunity to be a part of an expanding collection

Hervey Bay Regional Gallery reopened in April 2022 after two years of extensive refurbishment and strategic planning, which also signalled a rethink of its collection and what it should represent moving forward. 

Whatling says: ‘The Fraser Coast Regional Council is an amalgamation of previous councils, so the collection has come from multiple sources as a result. It’s heavily representative of local artists, which is great, but we have been working on a collection policy now.’ 

She continues: ‘I think a collection is most significant when it is related to the place that it exists within, both in terms of local artists, stories and histories, but also on a larger scale in terms of Girra.’

What Whatling will be looking for in the judging process is originality and concept, and how entrants really make use of the open theme, which harbours a breadth of possibilities. The Prize welcomes any visual art form, including but not limited to painting, sculpture, photography, installation, performance and video.  

‘I really love the idea that this art prize is giving us a fresh perspective on how artists can comment on our eternal relationship with the environment and how we see ourselves in place – these are the things that will still be relevant to our collection, and representative of the people who live here, for decades to come,’ Whatling concludes. 

Entries open for Girra: Fraser Coast National Art Prize from 1 May to 21 June 2023.

The finalists’ exhibition will be held from 23 September to 12 November 2023 at Hervey Bay Regional Gallery with the opening and prize announcement on 22 September. Learn more.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne.