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Akil Ahamat wins the 2018 John Fries Award

Akil Ahamat, 'So the spaces between us can stay soft' (2018)

Sydney artist Akil Ahamat has been awarded the annual $10,000 John Fries Award for emerging artists by the Copyright Agency at the opening of the award exhibition at UNSW Galleries. The judges also highly commend Rachael Mipantjiti Lionel from South Australia for her work Kapi Wankanya.

Now in its ninth year, the prestigious John Fries Award recognises the talents of early career visual artists from both Australia and New Zealand, and offers an important platform for some of the region’s most experimental and provocative works.

Sydney-based artist, Akil Ahamat, takes inspiration from online and consumer cultures and how they affect and shape identity in a contemporary context. He has been awarded the John Fries award for his video and installation work So the spaces between us can stay soft.

Akil believes the John Fries Award’s support of early career practices is exciting as it provides the opportunity to show work, especially to new audiences. “It’s particularly exciting to have my work in such a public exhibition to be able to understand how it exists more broadly.”

Curated by interdisciplinary artist, academic and curator Consuelo Cavaniglia, the John Fries Award Exhibition features all 12 finalists’ works, and is open to the public from Saturday, 29 September at the award’s presenting partner UNSW Galleries, until 3 November.

Consuelo Cavaniglia says Akil Ahamat’s work is compelling conceptually and in its technical realisation. The judging panel returned to the work again and again, drawn in by the intimacy of the experience.

The work talks of power and complicity, vulnerability and control. It stems from an online experience but finds its own language. It creates the space for a one-on-one exchange with the viewer while speaking about bigger ideas of transference, interrelations and interchange.

“The judges highly commend Rachael Mipantjiti Lionel’s exceptional work Kapi Wankanya. The complex handling of paint and colour creates a surface that connects to textiles as much as the digital. The work is arresting. It speaks of the fluidity of the dreams that give rise to Rachael’s work while representing strong cultural knowledge,” adds Ms Cavaniglia.

Chief Executive of the Copyright Agency, Adam Suckling, says, “The John Fries Award was established to support and shine a light on early career artists in their endeavours to grow and step up into the next stage of their art practice. The Copyright Agency is proud to be supporting an award that recognises and celebrates artistic vision and invests in Australian creativity.”

Chosen from a wide scope of more than 550 applicants, the 12 finalists include nine female artists: Beyula Puntungka Napanangka, Betty Muffler, Emily Parsons-Lord, Jelena Telecki, Laura Hindmarsh, Leyla Stevens, Lisa Sammut, Rachael Mipantjiti Lionel and Rochelle Haley, as well as Paul Greedy, Akil Ahamat and James Nguyen, all of whom will receive a $1,000 artist fee from the Copyright Agency.

The winner of this year’s award was determined by a panel of guest judges including curator Consuelo Cavaniglia, Sophia Kouyoumdjian, coordinator at Parramatta Artists Studios; Dr Mikala Tai, director of 4A Centre of Contemporary Asian Art; Shannon Te Ao, a Walters Prize-winner based in Wellington, New Zealand; and Kath Fries, artist, former Viscopy board member, chair of the John Fries Award committee and daughter of the late John Fries.

The Fries family generously established the John Fries Award in 2010 in memory of former Viscopy director and honorary treasurer John Fries, who made a remarkable contribution to the life and success of the organisation. Viscopy merged with the Copyright Agency on 30 November 2017.

The 2018 John Fries Award exhibition will run from 29 September to 3 November at the UNSW Galleries in Paddington.

Image: Akil Ahamat, So the spaces between us can stay soft (2018). Single channel video, stereo sound; installation, 3D printed resin, chrome, concrete 80 x 50 x 45cm. © Akil Ahamat. Licensed by Copyright Agency.