Vincent Namatjira makes history as first Aboriginal artist to win Archibald Prize

<em>Credit: Meg Hansen Photography</em>
Credit: Meg Hansen Photography
A Western Arrernte artist has won the 2020 Archibald Prize, the first time an indigenous artist has won the prestigious art award in its 99-year history. 

Vincent Namatjira, an Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands artist was awarded the Archibald Prize for his portrait of Australian Rules footballer and community leader Adam Goodes.

His piece, titled Stand Strong For Who You Are depicts himself alongside Goodes, described as ‘a proud Aboriginal man who stands strong for his people’.

Namatjira is the first Aboriginal artist to win the Archibald Prize, which first began in 1921 and is considered the most prestigious portraiture award in Australia.

Credit: Meg Hansen Photography

“I feel like this is a very important moment in Australian art,” said Namatjira on hearing the news.

“It’s an honour to be the first, but I also want to acknowledge all of the Indigenous finalists and Indigenous sitters for the Archibald this year and in past years.”

The artist said he was inspired to paint the portrait after watching the 2019 documentary The Final Quarter which explored the footballer’s experience with racism and the public debate that followed.

“My guts were churning as I relived Adam’s experiences of relentless racism on and off the field. Memories of my own experiences were stirred up and I wanted to reach out and reconnect with Adam,” explained Namatjira.

Namatjira said he felt similarities with Goodes around “the constant pressures of being an Aboriginal man in this country.”

“When I was younger and growing up in the foster system in Perth, Indigenous footballers were like heroes to me. Goodesy is much more than a great footballer though, he took a strong stand against racism and said, ‘enough is enough’. I stand strong with you too, brother,” said Namatjira.

Archibald Prize 2020 finalist Vincent Namatjira, ‘Stand strong for who you are’ acrylic on linen, 152 x 198 cm © the artist, Photo: AGNSW, Mim Stirling.

Art Gallery of NSW director Michael Brand said Namatjira’s work demonstrates the power of voices in the Indigenous community.

“Vincent’s work shows how much portrait painting still has to say and what strong voices our Indigenous artists have,” he said.

Namatjira was born in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) and lives in the community of Indulkana in the APY Lands in the north-west of South Australia.

His work focuses on portraits of important figures, both personal to him and politically famous, exploring the connections between leadership, wealth, power and influence in national and international politics.

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