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Actor and artist Meyne Wyatt was announced the Archibald’s Packing Room Prize winner on Thursday for his self-portrait, making him the first Indigenous person to win any of the prizes in the Archibald.
The Wongutha-Yamatji man’s accolade was presented at the NSW Art Gallery, where 55 finalists for the prestigious Archibald Prize for portraiture were also announced.
Wyatt, who hadn’t painted in a decade, credited his mother Susan for encouraging him to enter. She was a finalist for the Archibald Prize in 2003.
“She was like, ‘You need to enter it into the Archibald’,” he told ABC. “I was just really surprised to be here — I get lucky enough to be a finalist.”
Head packer Brett Cuthbertson said there was a “huge amount” of entries this year, but Wyatt’s self-portrait particularly caught his eye.
“In previous interviews I’ve constantly said I’ll never pick a self-portrait. Well I’m full of it, because I’ve actually picked a self-portrait — but the difference is, this time the artist is not just an artist — he’s also a celebrity,” he said.
“I saw this young guy bring his work in, and I thought, ‘I know that guy’s face!’ I just thought it was great. He’s having a crack, he’s never entered before, he hasn’t painted for 10 years, and it’s great.”
The winner of the Archibald Prize for portraiture will be announced on September 25, with finalists including: Angus McDonald ‘Behrouz Boochani’; Nick Stathopoulos ‘Ngaiire’; Kim Leutwyler ‘Brian with pink, blue and yellow’; Jonathan Dalton ‘Angela’; Wendy Sharpe ‘Magda Szubanski – comedy and tragedy’.
In June Wyatt’s powerful monologue at the end of a “Q+A” episode was hailed the “brilliant” piece of content that “Australia needs to see.”
He delivered a powerful four-minute speech calling out the oppression and racism First Nations people in Australia have faced every single day since colonisation.
Touching on tokenism, racial profiling, police brutality, the racist treatment of Adam Goodes and Australia’s tendency to be casually or “subtly” racist, Wyatt cut through to the audience in the video that went viral.
“I’ve taken it. No matter what, no matter how big, how small, I’ll get some racist shit on a weekly basis, and I’ll take it,” he said.
“You know, it used to be that in your face – ‘You boong, you black dog, coon’ kind of shit, ‘Gonna chase you down the ditch with my baseball bat’ skinhead shit … when I was 14 years old-
“But nah, ‘we’ve come forward, we’re progressive, we’re going to give you that small subtle shit’. Shit that’s always been there, but it’s not that obvious, in your face shit, it’s that, ‘Ooh no we can’t be seen to be racist’ kind of shit.”
The actor told people not to trade authenticity for approval and urged Australians to speak up against racial injustices.
“Be crazy, take a risk, be different, offend your family,” he said.
“Call them out. Silence is violence. Complacency is complicity. I don’t want to be quiet. I don’t want to be humble. I don’t want to sit down.”
Wyatt’s stunning monologue, which he originally performed in his play City Of Gold, has earned much praise online with many Twitter users saying “it’s the content Australia needs to see” in the wake of protests against systemic racism against First Nations, the police killing of George Floyd in the US and Indigenous deaths in custody.
With additional reporting by Carly Williams.