An intimate and personal work by First Nations artist Tony Albert has taken out Highly Commended in this year’s prestigious Dobell Drawing Prize.

Mr Albert’s drawing, Old Sins Cast Long Shadows, explores the legacy of colonialism, oppression and reductive representation that leads to racial profiling and stereotyping. It’s aimed to make audiences examine their understanding of the human condition.

Mr Albert created the piece from a range of images and objects he collected throughout his life.

“From a distance it looks like a beautiful silhouette of this Aboriginal man. It isn’t until you get up close you can see all these derogatory images that build up and make up part of our profile in this country,” Mr Albert said.

“I decided to push myself and challenge myself to do the drawing. It was my first encounter and opportunity to engage with my collection of images and objects.”

Mr Albert hopes his work will inspire conversations around the realities of First Nations people over time.

“When you … [consider] those images that are so driven by stereotypes and racial profiling, there is something hard about looking at them. But when you pull apart those images and understand what they are, and understand that a whole generation of us as people were witness to these kinds of objects and images—the way people identified with Aboriginal people was through these kinds of images—you start to think about the kind of detrimental effect that these kinds of things have had.”

“It is so easy to sweep these issues under the rug and forget about them as being part of our culture. But they were. We need to understand that generations of people identified with these and what effect that had. It’s not okay to say it never existed. I want to re-examine these images, I want to put these back in a different context and create a conversation about it,” Mr Albert said.

Old Sins Cast Long Shadows will be displayed alongside 57 other artists’ works at the National Art School Gallery until May 25th.

Old Sins Cast Long Shadows was Highly Commended in this year’s Dobell Drawing Prize.

Mr Albert has also been announced as one of twenty artists who will be part of the 2020 Biennale of Sydney, titled NIRIN.

NIRIN, a Wiradjuri word meaning mother’s nation,pays homage to 2019 being the year of Indigenous languages and give voice to First Nations experiences.

NIRIN Artistic Director, Brook Andrew said the exhibition will showcase 33 artists, creatives and collectives, and will express dynamic existing and ancient practices.

“NIRIN decentres, challenges and transforms dominant narratives, such as the 2020 Captain Cook anniversary in Australia, and reorients Western mapping, shining a light on sites of being that are often ignored or rendered invisible. NIRIN is an inspirational journey driven by stories and grass-root practices, realised through twisting perceptions, moments of transition and a sense of being in the world that is interconnected.”

Albert said NIRIN holds power—led by a First Nations director, voice and power will be vested in the minority.

“I feel amazing where we are at events and there’s a room full of brown people. Usually I am the one Aboriginal artist in the sea of white faces. This is a Biennale that challenges people, it is going to be one that makes people think …” Mr Alberts said.

NIRIN will be hosted at various locations including the Art Gallery of NSW, Artspace, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Cockatoo Island, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and the National Art School in Sydney.

It will be free to the public from March 14 – June 18, 2020.

By Rachael Knowles