Nina Sanadze wins the skilfully curated ‘the churchie’ emerging art prize

Nina-Sanadze-Apotheosis-2021-photo-Joe-RuckliEach year, the churchie emerging art prize showcases works by select artists from across Australia who demonstrate a high degree of excellence in their art practices.

This year, naarm / Melbourne-based curator Grace Herbert has chosen 14 artists for inclusion in a tightly curated exhibition held at the Institute of Modern Art in Meanjin / Brisbane, now on show until 18 December 2021.

Herbert explores themes of cultural identity, community and dissension against a backdrop of intermittent COVID lockdowns, increased dependency on online-mediated relationships, major humanitarian crises and climate disasters.

As she states in her curatorial essay A coming together…, “Many of the artists in this year’s exhibition depict moments of connection and coming together, be it literal or symbolic.”

The highly anticipated announcement for the winner of the churchie art prize took place on Friday 22 October. Guest judge Rhana Devenport ONZM, Director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, awarded the titular $15,000 non-acquisitive Major Prize to Nina Sanadze, a Georgian-born, naarm / Melbourne-based artist.

Sanadze’s work Apotheosis depicts fragments from the surviving studio archive of prominent Soviet monumental sculptor Valentin Topuridze (1907-1980), whose public sculptures were torn down after the fall of the Soviet regime in 1989.

Devenport said of her work: “Nina Sanadze is compelled to respond to some of the great forces of our time – ideology, authority, monuments, conflict and survival… Evocative and dramatic, Nina eschews the once victorious into a tumbling morphic vortex of fragility.”

Placed in the gallery amongst works by several First Nations artists celebrating their cultural heritage, this work reads as a monument to the destruction of old, defunct ideologies such as colonial Anglo-Australian dogma, instead calling to celebrate a culturally diverse Australian social fabric instead.

Devenport also announced Quandamooka artist Kyra Mancktelow as the winner of the $5,000 Special Commendation Prize for her work Blue jacket – Blak skin, an ink impression that challenges the colonial views which frame and degrade First Nations people through European standards of dressing.

Finally, Riana Head-Toussaint and Visaya Hoffie were each awarded a $1,000 Commendation Prize for their respective works First Language and Rich in cryptocurrency. First Language felt particularly affecting in its intimate documentation of the vernacular and choreography of the movements of wheelchair users, unearthing a lyrical medley of methodologically rotating wrists and fingers swiftly plucking and pulling wheel wires.

Each work in this exhibition celebrates a diversity of experience, welcoming viewers to listen and learn. This thematic focus feels strongest at the exhibition’s outset and conclusion: upon entry into the gallery lies Tiyan Baker’s durian husks, a popular fruit in Southeast Asia often feared by Anglo-Australians for its strong odour; and Jayanto Tan’s Potluck Party Pai Ti Kong (A Praying The Heaven God), which welcomes the viewer to a feast of delicious ceramic desserts from both Chinese-Sumatran and Anglo-Australian cuisines.

Food is both a vital part of one’s culture, and a means for bringing different people together. These works, then, perfectly encapsulate an exhibition which seeks to allow artists to, as Herbert articulates, “continue generously sharing and coming together.”

the churchie emerging art prize
Institute of Modern Art – Judith Wright Arts Centre, 420 Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley (Brisbane)
Exhibition continues to 18 December 2021
Free entry

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Nina Sanadze, Apotheosis, 2021 – photo Joe Ruckli

Review: Zali Matthews