I first encountered Yunkarra Billy Atkins at the Fremantle Arts Centre in the lead up to the opening of We Don’t Need a Map in 2013, where I photographed him and his collaborative video work with Sohan Ariel Hayes. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before – scary cannibals who lurked beneath the surface of a lake – the video was both repellant and magnetic. Over a year later, I was working in Newman at Martumili Artists, where I also had the opportunity to photograph artists Mabel Wakarta, Bugai Whyoulter and Nora Wompi for Design Satellite. Yunkarra was working quietly at a nearby table on huge watercolour paper and agreed to have me photograph him. He even went so far as to offer me the option to choose a new colour palette for a painting. Despite knowing I was a wadjela being humoured, I was pretty stoked, and no, I can’t do a poker face.
Shooting the artwork of the finalists for the 2015 Western Australian Indigenous Art Awards catalogue at the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA) recently, some of his large scale, perspective-shifting works on paper had arrived. Hurrah! (no need for poker face here). The Awards are a highlight of the AGWA calendar and this year is no exception – it’s broad national stroke shows a few established names I’ve seen around whilst introducing me to some I’ve never heard of – always a winning combination. The format of the Awards is that of small bodies of work from each artist, so it gives a good insight into their practice. The Western Australian Indigenous Art Awards are on now until 12th October and free guided tour times are here.
Amy Barrett-Lennard, Director at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA) and one of the three judges for the Awards, wrote this insightful essay for the catalogue and along with AGWA, has generously allowed it to be reproduced here for Design Satellite.