Controversial sculpture up for Aboriginal Art Prize

Aboriginal artist Myangah Pirate laughs when he says his face goes with his art.

"It's very confrontational," Pirate says of his heavily tattooed face, which reveals stories much like his art does.

Pirate has been named as a finalist in this year's NSW Aboriginal Art Prize, along with Illawarra artists Glen Duffield and Mark Williers of Culburra Beach, Terrence Wright of Wollongong, Barry Cooper of Orient Point, and Warwick Keen of Nowra.

The $40,000 prize, to be announced in NSW Parliament on October 17, is the richest art prize for Aboriginal artists in Australia.

Pirate's work, The Gods Had No Mouths, is typical of his art - using only natural materials such as ochre, wood, bark, leather and animal remains - in this case, an echidna.

Of course, it's controversial.

"When we showed it here [in Nowra] we had people complain and now it's on view on the national stage and no-one's complaining," he said.

Pirate is a third-time finalist in the awards.

"I do stuff nobody else does - it's controversial and it sponsors debate."

Pirate says his life-size representation of ancestral beings shows that the gods were represented by a multitude of animals and that mouths and eyes were not always present.

"I'm developing contemporary cultural attitudes with traditional materials," says Pirate, who learned art from his grandfather. "Everything I use is roadkill or bartered or is from reciprocal gift-giving.

"If I'm going to paint, I'm going to cut the bark off a tree and it takes at least two weeks to prepare."

He can spend up to 400 hours working on a sculpture.

Fellow award finalist Terrence Wright used art to help to heal when his brother died 18 years ago, and in the process he discovered a passion for dendroglyphs, which he carves into didgeridoos.

"I suppose it was part of the grieving process and I carved a didgeridoo and covered it with the story of five siblings and the two parents and gave it to my parents," Wright says.

The Wollongong artist says he is inspired by the patterns and designs seen in nature.

His entry in the award, Connections: Ode to the Dendroglyphs, is made from three carved didgeridoos - each with a story highlighting the connections of the land to the people.

"Eventually I'd like to custom-make pieces for people that tell their stories on it," he says.

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