Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary Paddy Crumlin has congratulated Melbourne-based artist Hedy Ritterman for winning the $5,000 MUA Human Justice Award component of the Blake Prize.
Ms Ritterman’s work was a photograph of a concentration camp survivor with his only pre-Holocaust possession: a leather belt whose notches show his increasing emaciation.
The Blake Society described the winning entry as an “evocative and moving image of Richard, which frames a 96 year old man whose life has been held together by a now ancient belt, a tangible constant in a life of both suffering and joy. His hands hold the belt like a museum object clearly revealing the tattooed numbers of his internment in concentration camps during World War 2.”
Mr Crumlin said Ms Ritterman’s photograph was: “A moving work, articulated with artistic clarity around the theme of a life’s perspective of accumulated experience and personal ownership.
“The veil of time separates the subject from the coincidence of many of those times and places finding focus in his belt that has proven to have been a constant of support on one hand and a reminder of the binding and inexorable effect of cruel circumstance on the other.
“The belt is a material object but more. It is a simple and constant thread of support and duration. It could also be a metaphor for the constriction of external binding that limits and impedes. Loosely bound and supportive, it leads him perhaps to a reflection that time and duration has imbued it with special significance.
“It is reflective and empathetic of the engagement of the material and deeply emotional interpolation that can provide a sense of depth to a lifetime of struggle and ultimately optimism. We have made it this far and some things provide a continuous thread of meaning and relevance. The numbered tattoo on the forearm is another constant reminder of vicissitudes of circumstance and place and a determination to not only survive but thrive and grow. Age is the ultimate achievement rewarding courage and affirmation in the face of adversity.”
The 63rd Blake Prize ($25,000) was won by Melbourne-based artist Richard Lewer for his moving digital work, Worse luck I am still here, a video animation of delicate black and white drawings that tells the tragic love story of a Perth pensioner who survived a failed assisted-suicide pact with his chronically ill wife. The work questions our approach to euthanasia and challenges our faith and belief systems.
The 2014 Blake Poetry Prize ($5000) was won by Dave Drayton for his poem Threnodials. The judges said of his poem that it “uses the device of the anagram in an imaginative and compelling way to evoke a connectedness between earth, death, tradition, ritual and religion”. The Blake Poetry Prize is run by the NSW Writers’ Centre in collaboration with the Blake Society and with financial support from Leichhardt Council.
The John Coburn Emerging Artist Award ($5000) was won by Sydney-based Emily Sandrussi, for Untitled (no.7) from the series Domino Theory. Sandrussi’s works involves a sensitive re-working of archival photos taken by her step-father as a soldier in Vietnam. Her work deals with issues of mortality, memory and suffering.
Blake Prize Chairperson Dr Rod Pattenden said: “This a diverse, challenging and deeply moving exhibition of words and images that helps us see what matters most to those who carry the imagination of our culture. It is sad to note that due to lack of sponsorship it may be the last Blake.”
The winners of the Blake Prize were announced to the public at the opening ceremony at the UNSW Galleries, on December 13.