Kent Morris vies for State’s richest Indigenous art prize

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By Daniel Wilson

St Kilda’s own Kent Morris has two of his artworks shortlisted in the Victorian Indigenous Art Awards. Forty-one artworks by 35 artists will go on show at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. They will vie for prizes worth more than $50,000 including the State’s richest Indigenous art prize, the $30,000 Deadly Art Award.

The two shortlisted works by Morris feature native birds. “Birds form an intrinsic part of Indigenous cultural knowledge, and although we have urbanised we are still on sacred land,” Morris explained. The shapes of an urban environment are the shapes that colonialism brought with it. They are being re-imagined by Morris to reflect Australia’s long history.

Just like birds have adapted to the new environment – they sit atop roofs and telegraph wires – so too is Aboriginal art adapting to the new environment. There is a change and an evolution, but the culture remains and forms a continuous link to the ancestors that came before.

Morris explains how he made his artworks, “I was walking around photographing native birds in amongst the built environment.” Although the photos look photoshopped, no digital information was added. “I don’t digitally alter them, I just flip and reflect. I am creating the shapes and designs of shields and artefacts from the original inhabitants of this country, some of the first people of the southeast. The designs are very geometrically based and linear.”

Not only is Morris an artist, for the past four years he has been running a program that he developed called The Torch. It’s an art and cultural program aimed at Aboriginal inmates currently running at 12 different prisons. It is about “strengthening cultural identity and expressing that through artwork” Morris explains. “It’s not just about making art, it’s about improving knowledge and awareness and building self-esteem and confidence.”

While Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island peoples represent 0.6% of the general population in Victoria, they represent 8% of our prison population. “There is a massive overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system across the country, and also high rates of re-offending, so it’s a serious social issue,” Morris explains.

Morris is clearly passionate about Indigenous issues. He is also passionate about Indigenous art. He has been following the Victorian Indigenous Art Awards since its inception 10 years ago, and could quickly rattle off some previously shortlisted artists such as Maree Clarke, Trevor Turbo Brown, Josh Muir, Peter Waples-Crowe, and many more. To now be shortlisted himself is exciting.

Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley congratulated the shortlisted artists.“The past 10 years have seen growth in the Victorian Aboriginal arts and cultural sector across all art forms. These Awards have played a significant role in the visual arts sector by showcasing the distinctive character of South East Australian Indigenous art.”

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Natalie Hutchins was also championing the award,”The Andrews Labor Government is proud to support the Victorian Indigenous Art Awards which help raise the profile of our state’s unique Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts sector and create career pathways into this captivating industry.”

The winners will be announced on August 8. The exhibition will run from 9 August to 20 September. A full shortlist is available at www.creative.vic.gov.au

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