Being a woman in the art world has always presented its challenges. A new initiative from the Art Gallery of NSW and La Prairie intends to alleviate them for Australian female-identifying visual artists. Titled the La Prairie Art Award, for its inaugural year the winner has been announced as Melbourne-based South Sudanese and Ethiopian photographer, Atong Atem.
At 27, Atong Atem has already cemented a name for herself in the art world, having received the inaugural National Gallery of Victoria and MECCA M-Power scholarship in 2018 and tucked the Brisbane Powerhouse Melt Portrait Prize under her belt in 2017. It's for this reason that the latest announcement comes as a surprise to nobody.
With a practice grounded in the concepts of identity and home, Atem uses photography as a means to explore migrant narratives and postcolonial practices in the African diaspora. Throughout her works, Atem references 20th century Malian photographers Malick Sidibe and Seydou Keita, while also drawing on the contemporary works of science fiction writer Octavia Butler. The result is hyperreal imagery flushed with colour, fragmented and densely layer with cultural markers and codes.
"I am enormously proud to win an award dedicated to contemporary Australian women artists, especially knowing how many remarkable women artists there are working in Australia today. I am thrilled to have this major work acquired by the Art Gallery and I would like to thank La Prairie for the opportunity to create new avenues for my career internationally," said Atem.
As a recipient of the 2022 La Prairie Art Award, Atem's work will be acquired by the Art Gallery of NSW, a move that works to strengthen and diversify the gallery's existing collection, while giving a platform to female-identifying voices previously unseen or unheard in mainstream art spaces. Atem will also be offered a residency to further her practice, and will be welcomed as a VIP guest of La Prairie at Art Basel in Switzerland, Miami and Hong Kong.