Bluethumb Finalists in the 35th NATSIAA

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Straight Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA). Held by the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT), these are Australia’s longest running and most prestigious indigenous art awards.

The finalists in 2018 are comprised of 66 works chosen from 308 entries from all states and territories this year, a significant first for the awards. There’s over $80,000 in prizes available, with the overall Telstra Award winner taking home $50,000 for the most outstanding work.


Mervyn Rubuntja of lltja Ntjarra Many Hands Art Centre is a finalist in this year’s NATSIAA awards.

We’re excited to have three Bluethumb artists in the finals this year: Niningka Lewis of Maruku Arts, and Mervyn Rubuntja and Hubert Pareroultja of Iltja Ntjarra Many Hands Art Centre. Other art centres on Bluethumb who have 2018 finalists are Martumili Artists (Cyril Whyoulter), Mangkaja Arts (Daisy Japulija), Warakurna Artists (Johnson Ooldigi Lane) and Papunya Tjupi (Charlotte Phillipus Napurrula).

NATSIAA Finalist Niningka Lewis

indigenous art

Ara Irititja by Niningka Lewis

Niningka Lewis is an artist whose creative innovation is loved by many. Born in the 1950s between the mission settlement of Areyonga and Tempe Downs cattle station in the Northern Territory, she grew up in the Ernabella area, making regular family trips throughout her traditional lands. After living and working in Kalka for many years and then Mutitjulu in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, she is now based back in Ernabella. Niningka has a distinctive style and her unusual carvings have been in many exhibitions.

NATSIAA Finalist Meryvn Rubuntja

indigenous art

Altunga by Mervyn Rubuntja

Mervyn was born at the Telegraph Station in Alice Springs. His mother Cynthia (Kamara) Obitja was a Western Arrernte woman. His father was an important role model for Mervyn. He was a senior lawman and a respected member of his community. He fought for Aboriginal rights and protection of the land working alongside the Central Land Council and assisted in the Mabo agreement. Mervyn has followed in his father’s footsteps painting in the watercolour style that his father taught him.

NATSIAA Finalist Hubert Pareroultja

indigenous art

Uruna Tjina (James Range, NT) by Hubert Pareroultja

Hubert is a finalist in the NATSIAA for the second year in a row. He is a senior Western Arrarnta-Luritja man who lives at Kulpitharra/Lundara outstation west of Hermannsburg (Ntaria). Hubert has been painting watercolours since he was a young boy thus following in the footsteps of his father, Reuben Pareroultja, and Uncles, Otto and Edwin Pareroultja. Earlier this year he was also a finalist in the Bluethumb Art Prize.

Every state and territory in Australia is represented in this year’s entries. Pictured is finalist Yukultji Napangati from WA. Source: Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory

MAGNT’s Curator of Aboriginal Art, Luke Scholes, said “this year’s Awards have attracted entries of an extraordinary artistic calibre, from diverse geographic regions, highlighting the continuing growth of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts sector”.


Wawiriya Burton is a finalist for her painting, but also creates woven baskets with Tjanpi Desert Weavers.

In previous years, many Bluethumb artists have found success at NATSIAA. Past Bluethumb finalists include Billy Atkins Yunkurra from Martumili Artists and Roland Burranali from Injalak Arts. In 2010, Jimmy Donegan of Papulankutja Artists and Ninuku Artists won the overall Telstra award and the General Painting Prize.

Jimmy Donegan

Jimmy Donegan in front of his winning painting in 2010. Source: The Australian

Durrmu Arts, one of the many art centres on Bluethumb, have works in the 2018 NATSIAA Salon Des Refuses. The exhibition opened last night at the Charles Darwin University Gallery and runs until October 6th.

The judging panel in the 35th NATSIAA is comprised of art consultant Glenn Iseger-Pilkington, Director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art Kelly Gellatly, and artist Judith Inkamala. Earlier this year, Glenn was also a judge in the Bluethumb Art Prize.


Robert (Tommy) Pau receiving the Works on Paper award in 2016.

Telstra have been the principal sponsor of the awards for the last 26 years. Telstra CEO Andrew Penn says of the partnership, “Telstra’s connection to NATSIAA stretches back over nearly three decades and we are incredibly proud to be involved. Each year the Awards have grown in status and significance and they now provide a showcase for the unique creativity and diverse talents of Indigenous artists. The quality and scope of the work this year is again superb and underlines the importance of this globally significant artistic celebration.”

Good luck to Bluethumb’s finalists!

The seven winners will be announced at the awards ceremony and exhibition opening at the Museum & Art Gallery of the Northern Territory this Friday. The finalists exhibition runs until Sunday the 11th of November.

art exhibition
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