Crumlin presents Blake Prize for Human Justice

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin has presented this year’s Blake Prize for Human Justice at an awards ceremony at the National Art School Gallery in Sydney.
The Blake Prize for Human Justice, sponsored by the MUA, has been won by Western Australian artist Abdul Abdullah for his work 'Them and Us'.

Mr Crumlin presented Mr Abdullah with a cheque for $5,000.

"The work 'Them and Us' is unsettling, if not confronting," Mr Crumlin said.

"It makes us aware of the social and community tendency to divide people according to their ethnic background or into categories of friend or foe, a kind of tribal thinking that maintains prejudices from each of the individual perspectives.

"The work asks us to question this assumption, especially as we observe the main figure of this photograph watching the viewer, wearing a tattoo that celebrates both Australian and Islamic identity, as well as a more generic youth culture."

Mr Abdullah, who grew up in Perth, thanked the MUA for the award.

"When I was growing up, being Muslim was a point of difference but it wasn't a big deal. I was just another one of the kids, with a different point of view," he said.

"But the more I grew up, the more I read the papers and watched the news, it seemed that in the popular imagination we were the bad guy and it's hard not to be affected by that.

"My mother for instance, she feels it a lot more. She was attacked after 9-11, she had her scarf ripped off the top of her head and it was these types of things that have really frustrated me. But I'm hoping to build some small bridges and do something about this."

Mr Abdullah said that in the Islamic tradition, it is forbidden to have tattoos, adding that he is not a "traditional Muslim, in that sense".

"It's sort of an affront to both traditions - the Southern Cross, which I've started to see as a bit more of a nationalist marking since the Cronulla riots and then having the tattoo itself is a bit of an affront to the Islamic tradition.

"What I really wanted to do with this particular work is to challenge the viewer, question them and see where they fit - the idea of them and us.

"It's about being a different person and a new person and not aligned with either tradition."

The Blake Prize is one of Australia's longest standing and most highly sought after art prizes. It has been awarded since 1951 to a work that addresses a subject of religious or spiritual integrity.

This pre-requisite is one that intentionally invites open responses from artists and, as such, has drawn much discussion and debate over its 60 years.

The Blake Prize for Human Rights - presented in the same awards ceremony - was first presented in 2009.

"The Blake Prize for Human Rights is an important acknowledgement of the role that the arts play in struggling for change," Mr Crumlin said.

"The Maritime Union of Australia is proud to sponsor this prize, as our union has always fought for the equality and self-respect of all people.

"As the first union in Australia to have our own film unit, and a history of members participating in the arts, our support of the Blake Prize for Human Rights reflects both our own history and our commitment to continuing the struggle for human dignity and mutual respect around the world."