STILL: National Still Life Award 2021

Artist Profile warmly congratulates Dunghutti artist Blak Douglas, who has been announced as the winner of Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery's biennial, acquisitive prize at Still: National Still Life Award 2021.

Silent Cop, 2021, was awarded the $30,000 prize by guest judge Elizabeth Ann Macgregor in a live-streamed ceremony, only one hour after the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales went into lockdown on Saturday 14 August. Macgregor, speaking on her selection of Douglas’s work for the award, noted especially that ‘the gallery will do a lot with it in terms of their education programs. . . it is a work you really have to see.’ 

The work engages both with Indigenous rates of incarceration and deaths in custody, and with the generic concerns of the still life. Constructed from a ‘policeman’s hat’ – normally placed in the centre of intersections to control traffic flow – and a spear, fashioned together with bronze, the work uses the object-language of still life to draw attention to modes of control exercised by the police and the state which they represent, especially upon Indigenous communities. The still life, as a genre, pictures the tension between the constant change which besets all living things in the world, and the stasis which the art object brings to bear upon these worldly things through representing them  – or, put more simply, the unsettled interplay between life and death. Douglas’s work takes these thematic concerns and asks how they might operate outside of the art world: in our communities, our laws, and our institutions. With most sources citing 340 deaths since the conclusion of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991, this is a pointed, and urgent, question.

In his acceptance of the award, Douglas acknowledged his Gumbaynggirr cousins for the honour, and noted that he looks forward to young people, especially, viewing and thinking through the work. Perhaps we might think about the artist’s and Gallery’s emphasis on public programs, and audience engagement with this work, as a subversion of the conventional association, in still life, between the artwork and its status as immutable, unchanging – somehow deathly. Perhaps, in this instance, to make a work of art is to make life more lively – to open up more questioning, more animate discussion, and change from the gallery floor up.

‘STILL: National Still Life Award 2021’ is showing (albeit behind closed doors for now) at the Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery. Five highly commended works – by Steve Bush, Michael Cook, Rose Rigley, Lucy Roleff, and Emma Rani-Hodges – are included in the exhibition, amongst a host of vibrant, diverse entries from across the continent, now available to view via 3D tour.

STILL: National Still Life Award 2021
14 August – 23 October 2021
Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery, NSW

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