The $30,000 Still: National Still Life Award 2021, has been awarded to Dunghutti artist Blak Douglas for his sculpture Silent Cop 2021, a memorial to black deaths in custody.
Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery awarded its biennial, acquisitive prize in a virtual ceremony on Saturday night, just an hour after lockdown was declared for the entire state of NSW. Many of the 59 Still finalists tuned into the livestream for the winner announcement by guest judge, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.
Accepting the award live online from Redfern, Blak Douglas said the win was totally unexpected and acknowledged his Gumbaynggirr cousins for the honour, as a descendant of the neighbouring Dunghutti nation on the NSW Mid-North Coast. He looks forward to his work resonating with Gallery audiences including younger people.
“I stepped outside of painting to create this piece because we are devoid of monuments, devoid of sculptures, of representations of first nation people across the continent,” Douglas said.
“The artwork speak about the abhorrent fact that we still have black deaths in custody and the indigenous incarceration rate.”
‘Policeman’s hats’, also known as ‘silent cops’, were positioned at the centre of intersections to control traffic flow. Douglas combined this symbol of police presence with a traditional spear and refashioned the two objects together in bronze. It’s a powerful statement to heighten the public’s attention to the serious issues of indigenous deaths in custody, dispossession and loss. At the spear’s base Douglas adapted the PayPal logo into ‘PayBak’.
“This is the pivotal point of the artwork,” explains Douglas. “You’ve got this spear that fits within that silent cop hat on the floor. The penny drops what I’m trying to comment about.”
During the judging Macgregor said she was drawn to the artist’s use of bronze but didn’t immediately recognise Douglas’s work, the artist known more for his politically charged paintings.
“It’s a sombre work, it’s a very beautiful work, and I hope the audience responds to it. I know the Gallery will do a lot with it in terms of their education programs…It is a work you really have to see!” said Macgregor.
Five highly commended works reflect the diverse mediums and geographic spread of Still 2021:- Steve Bush NSW, Michael Cook QLD, Rose Rigley QLD, Lucy Roleff VIC and Emma Rani-Hodges ACT.
A 3D Virtual Tour launching by September allows anyone to visit Still 2021 online including all 59 finalist artworks, the catalogue, pricing and voting for the $5,000 People’s Choice Award. Meanwhile a selection of Still works will be explored on Still Sundays with Mary McGillivray every Sunday of the exhibition on TikTok and IGTV (Instagram TV).
The winner of Still: National Still Life Award 2021 is Blak Douglas for his sculptural work Silent Cop 2021 Bronze, Concrete. Main photo by Fire & Fly Media.
Blak Douglas with materials for Silent Cop 2021.