Artist of the Year

Art at its best challenges the accepted shape of things. It transforms materials, spaces and bodies in order, ultimately, to transform consciousness. While this year’s nominees run the gamut of artistic practice, their work is marbled through with themes of cultural equilibrium and reforming and reframing how we experience the world.

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Nick Breedon

Nick Breedon is a sculpture and installation artist who also produces and co-hosts the Pro Prac podcast. Drawing from niche internet queer culture, ordinary objects, and traditional crafts, Nick’s expansive body of work captures fleeting moments of euphoria and existentialism to physically represent sticky conflicts of the lived experience. Also an advocate for access and understanding of marginalised communities and bodies, Nick’s solo Firstdraft exhibition ‘Public Art’ presented two years worth of research and work in the form of technically brilliant and humorously engaging sculptural installations which examined public art through a queer/trans/crip futurity perspective.

Photo courtesy of artist

Monica Rani Rudhar

Monica Rani Rudhar is a multidisciplinary artist, senior art installer, and a current director at Firstdraft. Through sculpture, image-making, performance, and installation, her work holds fragmented pieces of memory and oral history and rebuilds them into an autobiographical archive that speaks to Romanian and Indian diasporic experiences, and broader lived experiences of family history and migration. In 2023, her works have grown in scale and collaborative impact. Aesthetically diverse, her practice monumentalises the minute details that often go unseen and forges deeper inquiries into grand narratives and histories.

Photo courtesy of artist

Maissa Alameddine

Maissa Alameddine is a multidisciplinary artist, vocalist, creative producer, and co-director at Arab Theatre Studio. Her body of work is rooted in love and ranges from performance to sound design to video installation. She offers and facilitates acts of cultural preservation through collaborative community involvement. In 2023, Maissa presented her solo show Act III: Love (or what if this is love?) at Firstdraft and was involved in Documenta 15 and Volume Festival. Through all her work, Maissa invites us to consider ways to embody and transfer knowledge through rituals and storytelling which can manifest in food, gardening, and music.

Photo: Art Gallery of New South Wales, Christopher Snee 2023

Feras Shaheen

Feras Shaheen is an interdisciplinary artist and director whose work presents an intersection between choreography, performance, design, and teaching. Feras questions cultural knowledge and speaks to multicultural street culture through interventions of space and activation of audiences and bodies. His performance work at the Art Gallery of New South Wales as part of Projections hosted a satirical travel lounge and tourism campaign that presented a first-class experience of Palestine to visitors – inviting them to consider the contested and mediated perceptions of present-day Palestine. In 2023, Feras presented Our Side of Things, a multi-faceted arts exhibition held in collaboration with Jay Hennicke at Contemporary Art Tasmania and was a co-devising dancer in Jurrungu Ngan-ga/Straight Talk by Marrugeku.

Photo: Tom Kentta

Dorcas Tang 邓佳颖

Dorcas Tang 邓佳颖 is a photographer and researcher whose work presents an ethnographic approach to representations of marginalised or diasporic communities, particularly those of their own. Driven by care and inquiry, their photographic practice engages with institutional critique, the politics of image-making, cultural histories and archival silences. Their body of work often includes interviews and deep research to provide subjects with agency and visibility. In 2023, they were an artist in residence at The Lock Up and their ongoing photographic documentation projects Staging Portraits: Queer community photos at The Bearded Tit and Love Me Long Time have both seen solo exhibitions at Firstdraft and 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art respectively. Ultimately, Dorcas’ art speaks to and provides comfort for the transient ebbs and flows of our identities and how they are documented.

Photo: Anna Hay

Billy Bain

Billy Bain is a Darug artist whose work spans both two and three-dimensional mediums to present cultural critiques of quintessentially “Australian” contexts of the beach, pub and sports. His work is informed by personal experiences of conflicted cultural duality, presenting us an opportunity to decolonise spaces and question representations of so-called Australianness. Most recognisably, his clay figure sculptures present cartoonish and humourous subversions of Australia’s colonial iconographies and Eurocentric culture. Billy has exhibited all over the state including Granville Centre Art Gallery and The Lock-up, is an artist in residence at Parramatta Artist Studios and was a finalist in both the Wynne and Sulman Prizes at the AGNSW in 2023.

Photo courtesy of artist