STILL 2021 Winner

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 opening  ceremony on August 14, just an hour after lockdown was declared for the entire state of NSW. Many of the finalists tuned into the livestream for the winner announcement by guest judge, Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.

Attracting works from every state and territory, the third Still: National Still Life Award is the biggest and most diverse ever with 59 finalists selected from a record field of over 1,000 entries.

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 speaks 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.

The Coffs Coast proudly boasts seven of the Still finalists which are part of the exhibition: Coffs Harbour’s Samuel Beattie and Peggy Zephyr, Sawtell’s Violetta Lanza, Valla’s Christine Wilson, Sapphire Beach’s John Van Der Kolk, and Bellingen’s Polly Wells and Nikky Morgan-Smith.

According to Gallery Curator, Chloe Waters, the 2021 works will challenge our thinking on themes from First Nations experiences and addressing climate concerns, to living through a pandemic and the impact on the arts.

“The defunct arts building in Steve Bush’s Memento Mori 2020, resonates with the bleak reality the arts has faced with rolling closures and job losses. Despite this, creativity has persisted,” said Waters.

A 3D Virtual Tour launching this month 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. This also delivers a wider audience for the artists to sell their work at a time the creative industries need support.

A selection of Still works will be explored on Still Sundays with musings by Mary McGillivray every Sunday of the exhibition on TikTok and IGTV (Instagram TV).

This year marks 20 years of the Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery and will be the final Still in the current space, 2021 also breaking new ground with construction of the new Cultural & Civic Space where the new, larger gallery will celebrate the next Still Award in 2023.

WHAT STILL: National Still Life Award 2021

WHERE Coffs HArbour Regional Gallery

WHEN Now until 23 October

Image: Silent Cop 2020 by Blak Douglas