Newcastle Art Gallery scores a clean sweep of national awards with celebration of Indigenous art

17 Jun 2022

A landmark exhibition of Torres Strait Islander art has scooped the pool at the 2022 Museums and Galleries National Awards (MAGNA), securing a trifecta of titles for Newcastle Art Gallery.

Announced in Perth this morning, 'WARWAR: The Art of Torres Strait', won all three of its shortlisted categories, picking up awards for the best Learning or Interpretation Initiative, Indigenous Project, and Temporary or Travelling Exhibition.

Developed by Newcastle Art Gallery in collaboration with Torres Strait Islander artist and curator Brian Robinson and local artist and traditional performer Toby Cedar, the exhibition featured more than 130 works of art including several pieces that had not previously been seen outside of the Torres Strait.

It was presented in English, Kala Lagaw Ya (Western Torres Strait Islander), and Meriam Mir (Eastern Torres Strait Islander) languages and timed to coincide with significant dates in 2021 including Mabo Day, National Reconciliation Week, Coming of the Light and NAIDOC Week. 

Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the award acknowledges the importance of connecting with local communities and raising cultural awareness through art.

"As the most significant First Nations exhibition project in Newcastle Art Gallery's 65-year history, WARWAR provided an important opportunity for City of Newcastle to engage with our large Torres Strait Islander community and celebrate their culture in a meaningful way," Cr Nelmes said. 

"By raising the Torres Strait Island flag on City Hall for the first time to celebrate the opening of the exhibition, and leaving it in place permanently to fly alongside the Aboriginal flag, we continue to demonstrate our commitment to and support of our First Nations communities."

The three MAGNA awards follow on from previous recognition for the exhibition, which last year also won the Promoting Indigenous Recognition Award at the National Local Government Awards, as well as the Museums and Galleries NSW IMAGinE Award for best exhibition project.

Newcastle Art Gallery Director Lauretta Morton OAM was thrilled to accept the MAGNA awards at the ceremony in Perth today.

“To be recognised nationally as the winner in every nominated category is incredible. Having conceived this exhibition over four years ago, it has been an absolute honour to collaborate with Brian, Toby and our TSI community on this very special project,” Ms Morton said.

WARWAR is an Eastern Island word in the dialect of Meri am Mir, and it translates into English as ‘marked with a pattern’. It was always my hope that this exhibition, our events, and programming, would leave an indelible ‘mark’ on all that experienced the art and culture of the Torres Strait Islands for the first time at Newcastle Art Gallery.

"I share this success with Brian Robinson, Toby Cedar, Genus Passi Jnr, Gabriel Bani, Benjamin Bua Mabo, the Sailor and Whaleboat families, the University of Newcastle Design students, exhibiting artists, lenders and my wonderful team.

"The exhibition showcased the evolution and strength of Torres Strait Islander tradition and society through arts practitioners from the 19th century and the emergence of the contemporary art traditions of today. 

“With over 130 works of art, many from major Australian institutions and the Torres Strait Islands that have never been publicly displayed before, the exhibition provided an incredible opportunity for our local Torres Strait Islander community and visitors to experience and gain a new appreciation and understanding of TSI culture in Newcastle."

Newcastle Museum was also recognised for its high-quality programming, with its tribute to iconic Newcastle ensemble The Castanet Club being highly commended in the Temporary or Travelling Exhibition category at this year's MAGNAs.

The quirky and colourful Castanet Club: an exhibition you can dance to was curated by Museum staff to celebrate the city's role as an incubator for the arts, theatre, music and comedy. 

The Museums Australasia Multimedia and Publication Design Awards (MAPDA) were also announced in Perth today, with Newcastle Art Gallery being highly commended in the best exhibition Film category, while also being shortlisted in the Exhibition Branding Package, and Virtual Tour or Exhibition awards for WARWAR. The MAPDAs celebrate excellence and quality in design of publications and multimedia produced for the museums sector.