MUA the judge

Paddy Crumlin, MUA, judging which art work will take out the Human Justice award in the Blake Art Prize this year.

A record 30 of 68 finalists nominated to be included in the MUA sponsored human justice category of the Blake Prize held at the National Art School gallery in Darlinghurst Sydney this year.

The Blake Prize was established in 1951 and is the oldest art prize in Australia dedicated to spirituality, religion, cultural diversity and, since 2009, the Maritime Union of Australia human justice award

"IT is a powerful recognition of how integral social justice is to moral well being," said Paddy Crumlin, MUA.  "We are not functional or healthy without an acute a social consciousness.  In a world becoming inured to human rights abuses it's essential we don't suffer compassion fatigue. There's also recognition social commitment is often less divisive, less destructive than a fundamentalist commitment to many institutionalised religions."

Some of the work attracting the judges attention in this years Blake Human Justice award included REW HANKS linocut   It's Not Always Black and White.  Exquisite in detail and execution it is a take on Australian feminism, featuring Germaine Greer and the last Tasmanian Aboriginal Truganini. But is this a broader more challenging male statement on extinction?

ANDREW MEZEI's Suspension  depicts a man lost or lost in thought beneath a bridge, often the only roof over the head of the homeless. 

Transubstantiation of an Illegal Fishing Boat: after Italian artist Duccio is a striking naive work of disciple-like figures fishing bodies out of the ocean in nets. The work by  EVANGELOS SAKARIS is drawn in carbon ground from fragments of confiscated and burnt illegal fishing boats.

CHRISTOPHER O'DOHERTY's  (Mambo) Station of the Cross No.3 depicts a modern day bloodied Christ carrying the cross.  It is inspired by German Renaissance painter Grunewald (and dare we say film maker Mel Gibson? ).  Pig faced onlookers revel in Christ's pain.

ANNE SCOTT WILSON film work Conversation  features Abu Ghraib like faces. One by one their speech is suppressed under water.   Some painfully attempt to have words not bubbles escape from their lips, while others appear almost ecstatic from revelation or oxygen deprivation - a Tim Winton like breathlessness.

Another of the most striking works is FIONA WHITE's  Aged 38  - a punchy charcoal and acrylic painting of police violence against Aboriginal Australians.

"The painting is down to earth," said Paddy Crumlin.   "With the human spirit captured in the stark face of injustice, the tazer gun firing. Yet, paradoxically we have the victim of police brutality enraptured, enlightened in death.   There is one horrible, moment of illumination - an appalling apotheosis."

But easily the provocative work this year is Sydney artist RODNEY POPLE'S painting of a young boy, his genitals partly exposed, on the  alter - a stark statement on paedophilia within the Church.

Paddy Crumlin, who was also recently elected President of the 4.6-million strong International Transport Workers Federation will announce the winner of the $5,000 prize for the human justice category in media conference at the National Art School gallery on Thursday, September 2 at 11am.  He will present the cheque to the winning artist at the exhibition.

Last year's winner of the Human Justice award was Dianne Coulter for Cousin of Elizabeth NT .


MUA sponsorship of the Blake is in the union tradition of supporting labour culture and sponsoring art that challenges violence and intolerance; promotes justice and captures the spirit of the human condition.

Our engagement with art, theatre and film goes back half a century to the fifties when the Sydney union rooms were also home to New Theatre, a film unit, painters and visiting musicians.

The wharfie's mural painted by Australian social realist artist Roy Dalgarno and a collective of waterfront workers at the time is now on permanent exhibition at the Australian Maritime Museum.  It has been compared to the work of Mexican artist and husband of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera.

The 58th Blake Prize Exhibition, featuring the Blake Prize, the Blake Prize for Human Justice, the John Coburn Emerging Artist Award and the Blake Poetry Prize, will be on view at the National Art School Gallery, Forbes Street,  Darlinghurst from Sept 4 - Oct 3, 2009. The Gallery is open from 10am - 4pm, Mon-Sat.  Entry is free.