Best Artist

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 what we think of as the Australian experience.  


Leila El Rayes

Fiery, intense and sensual, Leila El Rayes artworks literally balance on the edge of a knife. Blending punk culture and Eastern aesthetics El Rayes creates artworks as an act of cross-cultural defiance. From belly dancing in a skirt made of knives, to crafting prayer mats from industrial nails she celebrates the vulnerable space between melding identities and contexts. In 2018 Leila exhibited her works at the National Museum of Australia and Nishi Gallery, UNSW Galleries, Nextwave, the National Art School, PACT and was one of the leading minds behind SOFT CENTRE 2018.

Photo: Jordan Munns

Justin Shoulder

Shapeshifter Justin Shoulder crafts creatures that collide a forgotten past with a far future. Drawing from queered ancestral mythologies, these alter personas come to life in his performances, conceiving darkly sensuous imaginary worlds that make us question our own. Justin uses his body and craft to spark connections between queer, migrant, spiritual and intercultural experiences. In 2018 Justin Shoulder went from strength to strength, performing locally and internationally performing his feature length theatre work, Carrion, and presenting projects for Club Ate with Bhenji Ra.

Photo: Alex Davies-Lowe

Nadia Hernandez

Nadia Hernandez artworks are inspired by a concept in the Spanish language called “Querencia” which roughly translates to “the place where one gathers a sense of strength”. Drawing on her culture as a Venezuelan women, Nadia creates vibrant, colourful and deeply political artworks that reflect her experience of identity in the midst of the current Venezuelan diaspora. Nadia kicked off our 2018 as the City of Sydney New Years Eve artist, designing everything from posters to the colour of the fireworks, she also exhibited a solo show at Firstdraft, created work for FBi Turns 15, designed a capsule collection and painted many a mural.

Photo: Kurt Davies

Shireen Taweel

Shireen Taweel’s artworks shine, literally. Working entirely with copper, she uses traditional decorative techniques to cut and manipulate these shining sheets of metal into sculptures and installations. Through her artworks, Shireen explores her experiences of being an Australian Muslim of Lebanese decent, and shares ideas of cultural exchange, sacred space and cultural hybridity. In 2018 Shireen exhibited at Next Wave Festival, Artspace, UNSW Galleries, Campbelltown Arts Centre and Casula Powerhouse amongst many others.

Photo: Jacqui Manning

Shahmen Suku aka Radha La Bia

Shahmen Suku aka Radha La Bia aka the Diva From India is full of alter egos. Pairing cooking with six-inch heels, Suku’s performances grapple with issues of migration, culture, colonisation and identity through his alter ego, Radha La Bai. Spiced with family tales and the occasional taste-test, Suku’s humorous storytelling addressed everything from his childhood growing up in a modern matriarchal Indian family in Singapore, to the idea of Australia as a foreign body. This year Suku has presented works for Liveworks at Performance Space, Liquid Architecture, Cement Fondu, appeared in The Set on ABC and made some of the best lime pickles we’ve ever tasted.

Photo: Teresa Tan

Talia Smith

Talia Smith unveils the emotional and physical traces we leave behind on a landscape, the histories we build and the ruins we leave behind. Talia is an artist and curator of Samoan, Cook Island and New Zealand European descent who is primarily interested in photography and video. In 2018 Talia exhibited and curated exhibitions nationally and internationally, ran artist-run-initiative Cold Cuts, sat on the board of experimental writing magazine Runway and generally kicked goals.

Photo courtesy of the artist