The highly anticipated 2021 Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes have been announced in Sydney, with Yolngu painter Nyapanyapa Yunupingu winning the Wynne Prize for her painting Garak — night sky.

The Wynne Prize celebrates the best Australian landscape scenery painting in oils or watercolours or the best example of figure sculpture by an Australian artist. This is the second time Yunupingu has been a finalist.

Garak — night sky depicts Djulpan, the Seven Sisters star clusters that are also known as Pleiades. Djulpan are one of the first creations and left ancestral Elders Nyiwunba and Rranyirranyi at the islands called Djakapurra, Gurrarri, Nalkuma, Dhakalnga, Bandaynga, Ngarrayarri and Wärru.

The Elders paddled to Nanydjaka (Cape Arnhem, NT) and rested before travelling along the coastline passing the Gumatj lands near Manydjarrarrnga (Daliwuy Bay), the Dhuwa lands and Baringurawuy and Ngumuwuy (Turtle Beach).

They set down at Gärriri (the Yirritja side of the creek at Rocky Bay) and moved up Dhuraka (Rocky Bay) before ending their journey.

“I was born on the beach at Yirrkala near where the Dhawu (large banyan tree) stands,” Yunupingu said.

“My father, Mungurrawuy, lived there with my mum, Bungay, who was one of his many wives. I used to watch my father painting and he would tell me that later I would paint on my own. I spent many hours watching him.

“The songline of the Djulpan Seven Sisters starts all the way north in the islands of Mangatharra (Indonesia) and ends right here.

“Right now, is the season when we can see them in the stars, and they cry for us.”

“I share this prize with my seven sisters, some of whom have passed away.”

Michael Brand, Art Gallery of NSW director, described the painting as “astonishingly evocative” and that it showed artist growth and innovation.

“This is a painting where the night skies and creation stories come together and take form on the artist’s Country and provide viewers with a unique vision of the Australian landscape,” Brand said.

The Archibald Prize was won by Melbourne-based artist Peter Wegner for his portrait of Guy Warren AM, and the Sulman Prize, awarded for the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project by an Australian artist, was won by Georgia Spain for her work Getting down or falling up.

The Roberts Family Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Prize, which awards an entry within the Wynne Prize category, was awarded to Amata-born woman Tjungkara Ken for her work Seven Sisters. Ken, who now lives in Yirrkala, is the fourth recipient of the prize.

This year the gallery received 2,144 entries for the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes, with the highest number of Aboriginal artist entries in its 100-year history. In another first, 2021 is the first year there have been more finalist works by women than men across the three prizes.

By Rachael Knowles