Melbourne-based artist Atong Atem is the first recipient of the La Prairie Art Award, an acquisitive award championing the work of Australian women artists presented by the Art Gallery of New South Wales
in Sydney, and La Prairie.
A new partnership between the Art Gallery and Swiss luxury skincare house La Prairie, the prestigious award supports Australian women artists through the development or expansion of a new body of work. The La Prairie Art Award aims to support and nurture the recipient's practice and increase their international profile. Each work will be acquired by the Art Gallery for its collection.
Atong Atem was selected as the inaugural recipient of the award by the Art Gallery of NSW and La Prairies global board of directors. Atem was awarded for her originality and ambitiously crafted and vibrant photographic portraits that celebrate their subjects.
The La Prairie Art Award also provides the recipient an international artist residency. As part of the award Atem will travel to Zurich, Switzerland and attend the Art Basel international art fair as a VIP guest of the Swiss luxury house.
Atem is an Ethiopian-born, South Sudanese artist and writer based in Melbourne who works predominantly in photography, often using portraiture to explore migrant stories and post-colonial histories of the African diaspora and examine lines of community and connection.
Atems work A yellow dress, a bouquet 2022 is a sequential self-portrait consisting of five photographs in which Atem appears in close-up, her face brightly painted. In this work, Atem gestures towards the tropes of classical western paintings traditions, through the postures she assumes and the symmetry of the sequence, while maintaining what she refers to as a decidedly African, postcolonial aesthetic style through an emphatic use of colour and texture.
On receiving the La Prairie Art Award, Atem said she was grateful and honoured to be the inaugural recipient.
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.
Art Gallery of NSW director Michael Brand said the Art Gallery is pleased to partner with La Prairie to offer the new art award to support women artists.
'The La Prairie Art Award will support the ambitions of women artists and enable their artistic practice to grow in new directions. We are thrilled by the possibilities this partnership creates for Atong Atem and all future recipients, Brand said.
Art Gallery of NSW deputy director and director of collections, Maud Page said, This new award recognises the dynamic and critical work being undertaken by contemporary Australian women artists and will assist to share their work with the world. The award also underscores the Art Gallerys commitment to acquiring the work of exceptional women artists and to showcasing the central role of women artists in art and culture.
Art Gallery of NSW senior curator of Australian contemporary art Isobel Parker Philip said, In A yellow dress, a bouquet, Atem extends her ongoing preoccupation with self-portraiture and builds on the stylistic mannerisms of her early Studio Series from 2015 that in part responded to the history of mid-twentieth century African studio portraiture, specifically the work of Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta.
Through her hyper-stylised costumes and make-up, Atem draws attention to the staging inherent to the studio scene, but such ornamentation also carries political weight. For Atem, the face-paint is a symbol of aesthetic alienation and a reaction against the idealisation of whiteness.