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La Prairie Art Award

Atong Atem

Atong Atem A yellow dress, a bouquet 2022. Art Gallery of New South Wales, La Prairie Art Award 2022 © Atong Atem

The La Prairie Art Award is an annual award to support Australian women artists

A partnership between the Art Gallery and Swiss luxury skincare house La Prairie, the La Prairie Art Award comprises of the acquisition of artwork for the Art Gallery collection and an international artist residency. As part of the award the recipient will travel to Zurich, Switzerland and attend the Art Basel international art fair as a guest of La Prairie.

The inaugural recipient of the La Prairie Art Award is Melbourne-based artist Atong Atem for her work, A yellow dress, a bouquet 2022.

About the artist

Atong Atem (1991) is an Ethiopian-born, South Sudanese artist and writer based in Naarm/Melbourne who works mainly with photography. She often uses portraiture to explore migrant stories and postcolonial histories of the African diaspora.

Atem explores concepts of home and identity through a critical and sentimental lens and references the works of photographers Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta and science fiction writers such as Octavia Butler as tools for navigating liminal spaces.

Atem has exhibited her work across Australia, including National Gallery of Victoria, MUMA Monash, Gertrude Contemporary, Australian Center for Contemporary Art and Internationally at Red Hook Labs in New York, Vogue Fashion Fair in Milan and Unseen Amsterdam art fair.

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About the artwork 

For the La Prairie Art Award 2022, Atem extends her ongoing preoccupation with self-portraiture and the history of mid-20th century African studio photography, including the work of Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta. These photographers pushed against the pictorial codes of ethnographic photography and gave agency to their subjects. 

A yellow dress, a bouquet 2022 is a sequential self-portrait, Atem alludes to classical Western painting traditions through her postures and the symmetry of the group. Yet Atem also maintains what she refers to as a ‘decidedly African, postcolonial aesthetic style’ through her emphatic use of colour and texture.

The hyper-stylised costumes and make-up draw attention to the staging of 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.

La Prairie Art Award is an invitational award only and is not an open competition, like the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes; artists are unable to apply to enter.  

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