THE Australian War Memorial’s $10,000 2019 Napier Waller Art Prize has gone to Natalie Duncan for her work, “You are in danger and I am far away”, it was announced last night (September 19) at the memorial.
The striking ceramic work was chosen from a short list of 26 entries. It will now be displayed at the memorial and accessioned into its collection. Duncan will also receive a two-week research residency in the art section of the Memorial, and a mentoring day with Canberra artist and former official war artist to the Solomon Islands, eX de Medici.
In her artist’s statement, Duncan said she had taken the title from a letter written by war artist Hilda Rix Nicholas, whose own art was rejected by the Australian War Memorial during the 1920s on the basis that they were “too personal”.
But far from avoiding the personal element in creating her winning work, Duncan was strongly influenced by her own experiences, saying: “I find myself in a somewhat unique position; an artist and a veteran, wife of a navy clearance diver and sister to one as well. I remember Afghanistan, the tired young heads resting in hands and shaky voices calling home. I ignore the mental pictures of my husband disposing of bombs overseas. And I know what waits in the dark for too many of our people, when they are alone.”
Ms Duncan explained that the work was further motivated by the fact that he own son was now joining the Army.
“I feel an irrational sense of dread and pride…Rage that anyone could think there was any war worth risking him in, and fury at those who would not appreciate the gift of my child; willing, if this country asks, to give his life for you and yours. It is ‘too personal’.”
The Napier Waller Art Prize, named after the artist who created the mosaics and stained glass for the AWM’s Hall of Memory, is open exclusively to current and former Australian Defence Force personnel. It is held in partnership with the University of Canberra, Thales Australia, The Road Home, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, with support from Nationals MP Darren Chester.
“In many cases the subject matter tells stories that hurt, but in doing so they heal,” memorial director Brendan Nelson commented, while the University of Canberra’s Ian Drayton told those at the prize announcement of his research into how the creative arts can aid soldiers’ recovery from combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder for some time.
The 12 highly commended works will be displayed in Anzac Hall’s mezzanine area from 20 September 20 to November 25.
Voting to awm.gov.au for the $5000 Napier Waller People’s Choice Award closes on November 17. The 26 shortlisted works can be viewed at the same site.