Selfhood and identity in digital artworks

THE $10,000 Macquarie Digital Portraiture Award has gone to Tiyan Melissa Kilie Baker from the Northern Territory, it was announced this morning at the National Portrait Gallery by Lisa George of the Macquarie Group Foundation.

Viewing Baker's winning work
Viewing Baker’s winning work

Baker won the award for her series of three digital video works, “Lost Love – Waiting for midnight at the Long Distance Call Building on Chang-an Jie so I can call her,” Beijing 1998, 2014, “Waiting on the bridge on Da Liu Shu Road for something to happen to me,” Beijing 2011, 2014, and “Yiyi is tired after running at Yong He Jia Yuan park,” Beijing 2014, 2014.

In accepting her win, the surprised Baker said that she had recently been in China and as a Mandarin speaker was able to ask respondents to reenact a memory.

Baker (foreground) and shortlistees await the announcement
Baker (foreground) and shortlistees await the announcement

“Beijing is a really is a tough city where it’s really hard to be human,” she said, and our aim had been both to mourn the loss of changes in China that saw houses torn down and to help reclaim identity.” Now in its third year, the Macquarie Digital Portraiture Award is unique in the world, so NPG Senior Curator Chris Chapman said, in linking traditional notions of portraiture to the digital realm for emerging artists between the ages of 18 and 30. Chapman added that Baker’s three video portraits were “meditations on love – lost and remembered. The video portraits reveal heartbreaking moments where individuals long for connection – a feeling that many of us can identify with.”

Chapman told those present that far from being a tough sell to audiences, the award exhibition had proved to be one of the Gallery’s most popular. With 44 entries this year that explored selfhood and identity, it was evident that the quality had “really evolved” since its inception three years ago, showing mastery of the new media.

George, speaking for the Macquarie Foundation, which had given $215 million over its life, said that Macquarie’s private collection there were no fewer than 10 digital works. It was great, she said, to hear what had happened to the previous two winners, one of whom had enjoyed solo shows, and another of whom was now studying at RMIT.

NPG director Angus Trumble
NPG director Angus Trumble

Director of the Portrait Gallery, Angus Trumble, in complimenting the sponsor, noted that there was a noble tradition since the 1400s of banks supporting art, one which naturally he applauded.

The other finalists in the award were Xanthe Dobbie. Joseph Steven Knox and Imogen Henry from Victoria and Phoebe Carmody from the ACT, a notable preponderance of womrn, as Chair of the NPG Helen Nugent observed.

The $10,000 cash award, supported by the Macquarie Group Foundation, will allow Baker to undertake a professional development program at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, who will provide access to sophisticated technologies and well-connected online communities.


Judges for the award were Chapman, the Artistic Director of Performance Space Sydney, Jeff Kahn and the Gallery’s online manager, Gillian Raymond.

The Macquarie Digital Portraiture Award 2014 will be at the National Portrait Gallery until November 23.

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Helen Musa
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