First Nations ceramics with a matriarchal awakening

Indigenous Ceramics Award inaugural feature artist Penny Evans showcases her newest site-specific work at the Shepparton Art Museum alongside 2022 winners.

Featuring prize-winning works by Pitjantjatjara artist Anne Nginyangka Thompson and Gamilaroi artist Sean Miller, the 2022 Indigenous Ceramic Award (ICA) at Shepparton Art Museum is well underway and showcasing an array of promising talents with this year’s return of the open call format.

Emerging artist Anne Nginyangka Thompson was awarded SAM’s Major Acquisitive Prize of $20,000 for her work Strong Family Connection (2022) by the judging panel, consisting of K/Gamilaroi artist Penny Evans, ceramics artist Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, and Kimberley Moulton, Senior Curator of South Eastern Aboriginal Collections at Museums Victoria.

A 2018 ICA finalist, Evans has also been selected as the ICA feature artist this year with a new commission drawing on her connections to Kamilaroi Country. The work will have ‘a strong matriarchal presence,’ said SAM Indigenous Curator Belinda Briggs in an earlier interview.

Evans’ site-specific work is installed on the wall of the three-level staircase inside SAM, creating a lead way into the ICA exhibition.

Evans told ArtsHub: ‘The work is called Dhuwidha dhurraaya, which means “dig deeper”, so there are a lot of really decorated digging sticks which are women’s tools for digging up food and medicines from the ground.

‘There’s a viewing gallery, so if you stand five meters back and view it on the other side of the staircase, you get this fantastic view of it with the natural light coming in from all directions.’

Alongside her captivating storytelling is a visually rich work made with white stoneware, black midfire and terracotta clay, which Evans has been rolling together and in-laying to create different patterns.

With a career spanning over 40 years, Evans described her practice as ‘fundamentally healing’ and clay a medium that is ‘very therapeutic to work with’. Her 2018 ICA finalist work was about water theft, advocating for caring towards Country in a time of drought.

Evans’ Guduwalhi Burn is also included in the National Gallery of Australia’s 4th National Indigenous Art Triennial: Ceremony, which will be travelling to SAM from 17 December. 

Briggs added: ‘[Penny] has gone from strength to strength. It’s really exciting to watch her work as there’s always something new.’

Although this is the first time that Evans has judged an art prize, the ICA is one that she is deeply connected to.

Evans told ArtsHub: ‘Being a part of the ICA is great national exposure and definitely raises your profile.

‘For me, [the winning works are] just what initially stands out and blows me away.’

What to expect at 2022 ICA exhibition

Together with Nithiyendran and Moulton, the 2022 ICA judging panel said of the winning works: ‘Anne’s work was visually, aesthetically, and technically resolved, with a remarkable

complexity in its depiction of the mapping and connection to Country. It held an energy that

captivated each of us.’

Miller, a past ICA finalist who this year took out the South-East Australian Aboriginal Artist Prize of $5,000 with Galibaay on Country (2022), is an artist who ‘is confident and has sound knowledge in materiality’.

‘The work has a playfulness to it and was a strong reflection of the iconography of his Country,’ said the panel.

Together alongside 26 Indigenous artists across 16 Language groups, the 2022 ICA exhibition showcases boundary-pushing works of First Nations artists from the Northern Territory, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia.

Visitors are invited to cast their vote for the 2022 ICA People’s Choice Award, open throughout the duration of the exhibition until 4 December.

2022 Indigenous Ceramic Award is on view at Shepparton Art Museum until 4 December; free.

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. Instagram: @lleizy_