Owen Leong, the winner of the 2015 Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award

Gold Coast City Gallery announced the winner of this year’s Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award last weekend. The $20,000 prize for 2015 was won by Sydney-based artist Owen Leong with his self-portrait Mudra, 2014.

Natalie King, Melbourne-based curator, writer and Senior Research Fellow at the Victorian College of the Arts described the award and this year’s submissions.

“Since 2002, the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Photography Award has become a signature art prize on the art calendar roster and I am delighted to have the honour to shortlist and select the winner for acquisition for the Gold Coast City Gallery Collection. It’s a testament to the prize that previous winners including Polixeni Papapetrou, Darren Sylvester and David Stephenson have re-entered, demonstrating an ongoing engagement with the award and the high caliber of artists’ submission.”

The award attracted more than 330 entries this year and the winning piece was selected from a total of 58 finalists.

Owen Leong is a contemporary Australian artist working with the notion and transmission of culture and the body through human subject matter. A ‘mudra’ is a spiritual gesture made with the hands and fingers in both Hinduism and Buddhism. In his winning piece, the artist himself, dressed in a black cape with mineral formations emerging from where his face should be, holds casts of his own hands in the forms of mudras; karana mudra, a gesture warding off negative energy, and gyan mudra, a gesture for opening oneself to knowledge.

“The doubling of hands, both real and cast, suggest grasping at a symbolic and spiritual language as a form of healing.” Leong explained in his interview in blouinartinfo.com.

“Cloaked in black, out of my hooded jacket erupts black prismatic mineral that forms a mirror-mask protecting the wearer and reflecting the world back into itself,” he added.

“I like to elicit a duality of attraction and aversion. I like to create a sense of alien beauty that is at once familiar and foreign. In doing so, I hope to destabilise the viewer’s perception of the body depicted in the work, cause slippages in meaning, and create space for new identities to into being.”

Leong often engages with his Chinese heritage and uses elements of cultural knowledge to explore the poetics of healing. He uses the human body to question social, cultural and political forces. His use of liquids; blood, milk and honey, in his images explores the passage between perceptual and physical thresholds of the body.

This image engages the viewer. There is no question about that. It might grasp you in an obsessive, almost disturbing way or smoothly lure you into the spiritual, healing realm of it. Either way, you will be thinking of this image long after you leave the gallery and you have a year to do so. Following the gallery’s tradition to bring back the winner of previous year’s award, we can expect Owen Leong to come and talk about this piece, his art and life sometime next year.

All the finalists’ work is exhibited at Gold Coast City Gallery until 31 May 2015.

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