Competition for veterans and service people highlights the therapeutic nature of art

Dominic Giannini 23 September 2021
'Yarn' by Matt Jones

Yarn, by Matt Jones, winner of the 2020 Napier Waller Art Prize. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

Current and former Australian Defence Force service personnel are being encouraged to enter this year’s Napier Waller Art Prize, where entrants can submit any original visual art medium with a theme of their choice.

The competition is now in its fourth year and aims to promote the therapeutic essence that art can have on service personnel, especially those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental illnesses.

Former Army Major Matt Jones, who served in East Timor before finding himself homeless in Sydney, won the 2020 prize with his conceptual piece, Yarn.

Matt says it takes courage to reveal your vulnerabilities through art, even if that story remains personal.

“It is a vindication of the difficulties I have been through,” he says.

“It was worthwhile telling the story, even if I am the only person who knows what that story is.”

The blue and yellow yarn in Matt’s artwork is centred on the Kilo maritime signal flag, which means ‘I wish to communicate with you’.

The artwork is partly comprised a blanket a local knitting group gave him while he was couch surfing, sleeping on trains and bathing at the beach.

Matt says cutting up the blanket and weaving it into the artwork denotes that part of his life is not coming back.

“We tell our stories with what we have, not with what we hope we might have,” he says.

“My work is made up of a whole lot of individual pieces of yarn, and there are a whole lot of stories from myself that have gone into it so the threading together of those stories is the therapeutic nature of it.”

Gary Ramage's photograph, 'Afghan diggers’ ghosts at the AWM'

Gary Ramage’s photograph, Afghan diggers’ ghosts at the AWM, won the People’s Choice award in the 2020 Napier Waller Art Prize. Photo: Australian War Memorial.

Australian War Memorial director Matt Anderson says visualising personal feelings and sharing them with other members of the Defence Force, as well as the broader community, can help with the healing process from trauma.

“We are encouraging current and former Australian Defence Force personnel to raise awareness of the therapeutic power of artistic creation, shared experiences and the talent of service personnel,” he says.

This year’s winner of the Napier Waller Art Prize will receive $10,000, and the winner of the People’s Choice award, voted by the general public, will receive $5000.

The works will be displayed in an exhibition alongside other highly commended pieces, and will become part of the Australian War Memorial’s National Collection.

The exhibition of highly commended works will be held in mid-2022, pushed back from this year due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

Submissions are now open for the Australian War Memorial’s 2022 Napier Waller Art Prize, and close on Sunday, 12 December, 2021.

More information about the prize and previous entries can be found at the Australian War Memorial.


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