S.J Norman Wins The Blake Prize

Rebecca Varidel
26th Mar 2022

One of the most prestigious Australian Art awards The Blake Prize winners were announced today at the exhibition launch at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre.

The Blake Prize is a biennial award that engages local and international contemporary artists in conversations of the broader experience of spirituality, religion and faith.

As one one of Australia’s longest-standing art awards, The Blake Prize is now in it's 67th year, with this spiritually and culturally diverse expression of art and poetry has been hosted by Casula Powerhouse since 2016, which is fitting as Liverpool Council represents 150 places of birth, nearly as many languages and many faiths.

S.J Norman is the deserving 2022 winner for his multi-disciplanary installation and photographic story of indigenous scarification ritual, mourning indigenous deaths in custody.

In Norman’s winning photographic diptych , Cicatrix (All that was taken, all that remains), documents 147 incisions which were made on the skin of the artist’s back, over a ritual work lasting 147 minutes to recognise the 147 Aboriginal people who have lost their lives while in police custody over the last decade.

In the work, Norman stages a personal reclamation of the ancestral mourning rights he has been divested of as a Wiradjuri person. Cicatrix invites a consideration of the body as a vessel of complex grief, and the wound as a technology of transmutation.

Norman, a Chippendale NSW local, was selected as the winner from 65 finalist works.

The judging process was led by a team of three industry professionals which took place before Norman was announced the winner of the $35,000 cash prize by NSW Minister for the Arts, The Hon. Ben Franklin at a launch event at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (CPAC).

Two other Australian artists were awarded prizes. Katy B Plummer of Annandale NSW took out the Established Artist Residency prize for her interactive audiovisual multi-platform work WE ARE ALL ASTONISHINGLY WISE. Plummer’s work features a good-natured oracle that interacts with the audience, that holds up poetic texts and a QR code that when scanned offers possible interpretations of the text by two Diviners. As a part of her prize, Katy receives a residency and solo exhibition at CPAC.

Queens Park WA resident Sakinah Alatas was awarded the Emerging Artist Prize for her work "Qadarullah" (Divine decree), an introspective piece that uses a Muslim prayer mat to explore the artist’s feelings of surrendering to God’s will after losing her mother and giving birth in the same week. Alatas receives $6,000 as a part of her prize and her work is acquired into the Liverpool City Council Collection.

CPAC Director Craig Donarski said “I think for many of us, the last two years of the pandemic have led to a lot of introspection, questioning and exploring our individual spirituality. This is evident in the winning and finalist’s works for this year’s Blake Prize.”

“Congratulations to our winning artists. We had an incredibly high calibre of entries for this year’s awards so these wins are a testament to their dedication and skillful art practice,” said Donarski.

The 65 finalist works are currently open to the public, on exhibition at CPAC until Sunday 22 May 2022.

The three Blake Prize judges were Megan Monte, the inaugural Director of Ngununggula; Abdul Abdullah, a significant Australian multi-disciplinary artist and Rosemary Crumlin OAM, a Sister of Mercy, art historian, educator and exhibition curator with a special interest in art and spirituality. On the selection of the winners, the judges said:

67th Blake Prize: SJ Norman, 'Cicatrix' (All that was taken, all that remains)

“S.J Norman’s diptych photo series 'Cicatrix' (All that was taken, all that remains) made an immediate impact on all three judges, both visually and conceptually, and was unanimously selected as the winner of the 67th Blake Prize.

“Central to the work is the acknowledgement of 147 Aboriginal people who have lost their lives while in police custody over the last decade. This is a subject of national importance, and the judges anticipate this prize will bring new attention and continued engagement by the public with this topic.

“The judges were also impressed by the ways the artist explore ideas of scarification and ceremonial languages of Aboriginal peoples into the work. Cicatrix, and the artist’s practice, resonates with the themes of this prize but also has the potential to expand how contemporary audiences engage with the themes of spirituality, belief and religion in our contemporary Australian context."

The judges believe S.J Norman is well placed to really benefit from this significant art prize.Congratulations.”

The Blake Established Residency Prize: Katy B Plummer, WE ARE ALL ASTONISHINGLY WISE

“The judges were instantly animated and excited by Katy B Plummer’s WE ARE ALL ASTONISHINGLY WISE.

“The judges found this to be an extremely refined presentation, every detail from the pink frame and sensor box through to the oracle interpretations and accompanying website, is executed with great care and consideration.

“The judges are excited to see how the artist will take this opportunity to work with the teams at Casula Powerhouse through a residency and exhibition project. They recognised that Katy has a strong point of view that will be showcased in a solo exhibition.”

The Blake Emerging Artist Prize (Acquisitive Prize): Sakinah Alatas, “Qadarullah” (Divine decree)

““Qadarullah” (Divine decree) spotlights Sakinah Alatas as an exciting emerging artist to watch. The judges believe this work aligns exceptionally with the themes of the Blake Prize. The story of birth and death, experiences between mother and daughter, is personal but will be affecting and relevant to many audiences.

“The judges also believe the work exhibits an appreciation of historical and contemporary traditions within textile art. The work will make a worthwhile contribution to the existing collection of contemporary textile art in Liverpool City Council’s art collection.”

All of the art is texturally rich, engaging and inspiring, and better seen in the flesh. The free exhibition is on until 22 May 2022. Five finalist poems from The Blake Poetry Prize are also on display.

Pictured, Norman's 'Cicatrix' photo credits Ricardo Martinez Roa