Memorial launches Napier Waller Art Prize

Dr Nelson with veterans’ art work at the memorial

THE first ever national art prize offered exclusively to all current and former defence personnel was launched today at the Australian War Memorial.  

The $10,000 Napier Waller Art Prize, named after WWI artist Napier Waller, aims to promote the healing potential of art for servicemen and servicewomen and to raise a broader awareness of the military. It’s supported by the memorial, the Thales Group and the University of Canberra.

Waller, who was severely wounded while fighting at Bullecourt and later had his right arm amputated, trained himself to write and draw with his left hand. He went on to design the artwork in the War Memorial’s Hall of Memory and once said: “an artist paints with his head, not his arm.”

Among the guests, introduced by director of the memorial Brendan Nelson, were Alasdair Cameron from chief sponsor, the Thales Group, representatives of the Australian Defence Force and the University of Canberra, Senator Derryn Hinch, whose office, we heard, was full of paintings by veterans and leading war artist Ben Quilty who, as Dr Nelson said, was “here so often we could make him an exhibit”.

Dr Nelson spoke of the War Memorial’s credentials as a repository of fine art, saying that there were almost 40,000 artworks in the repository at the moment and that art was a good way of communicating the experience of war. “Our task is to make this history live,” he said.

The selection committee would consist of Dr Nelson, Quilty, Prof Jen Webb from the University of Canberra, representatives of the Australian Defence Force, Thales and two other invited panel members.

War artist Ben Quilty, adjudicator and mentor.

Quilty, who had been an embedded war artist during 2011 in Afghanistan, said the prize would be for those who were driven to make art.

“It’s such an important thing for them to have a voice,” he said.

He told those present about how, when flown over the desert near Taryn Kowt in a Chinook, he had been shown a 60 metre Kangaroo installation, which was made of stones, but had never been able to find out who did it. But he did find another serving artist whose work had since been acquired by the memorial.

The official launch of the prize was performed by Ian Drayton, faculty manager from the Faculty of Arts & Design at the University of Canberra, who had, while on a Churchill Fellowship,  studied the use of creative arts in aiding the recovery of veterans. He said that the barriers to art in the Defence Force were attitudinal rather than structural and stressed the University of Canberra’s commitment through its current “Arts Project” to link arts and therapy and its role in spearheading the prize.

Regrettably, Dr Nelson said, “space is a problem”, and that had led them to stipulate that artworks entered, whether in painting, sculpture photography or other media, would not exceed 2 m x 2 m x 2 m in size.

Entries are due between June and July and the winning entry, he said, would be announced in late September, displayed at the Memorial and accessioned into the national collection. The winner would also be offered a mentorship and residency at the memorial under the mentorship of Quilty. A People’s Choice award would also follow.

For details of how to apply visit



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