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the churchie emerging art prize 2023


Established at Anglican Church Grammar School in 1987, the churchie emerging art prize is renowned for showcasing the next wave of early-career artists. Today, it is one of Australia’s leading awards for emerging artists.

Now in its 36th year, ‘the churchie’ has become one of Australia’s leading prizes for emerging artists, offering a $25,000 non-acquisitive prize pool to support artists at a critical moment in their careers.

The exhibition surveys the diverse work being created by early-career artists across Australia–featuring works by thirteen finalists. Curated by Sebastian Henry-Jones, the exhibition spans painting, sculpture, video, drawing, printmaking, and photography in an examination of the theme of context. 

Featuring works by Alrey BatolAmanda BennettsDylan Bolger, Luke BrennanMatthew BrownRaf McDonaldCorben MudjandiMelody PalomaRoberta Joy RichJoel Sherwood Spring, Jess Tan, Debbie Taylor Worley, and Ash Tower.


1 Dylan Bolger

Sixty Two, Sixty Three, Sixty Four 2023
paint and stain on plywood 

Maiawali, Karuwali, Pitta-Pitta, and Gomeroi artist Dylan Bolger uses a macaranga leaf motif to explore resilience and Blakness. This ancient plant is considered a recoloniser or pioneer plant, meaning that, after devastation, it will be one of the first to grow back. 

Bolger says, ‘I use the macaranga leaf to represent my people and culture as being of an “old-world genesis” as we grow back through the devastation of colonisation.’

2 Roberta Joy Rich

Lunch with the Family at Mignon Street, Cape Town 2022
video installation with headphones and flatscreen, seating, 36min 33sec
Commissioned by Footscray Community Arts and Australia Centre for Contemporary Art for the exhibition The Purple Shall Govern, presented at Footscray Community Arts as part of the Australia Centre for Contemporary Art Who’s Afraid of Public Space? program. Funded by the Australia Council for the Arts, Creative Victoria, and the Besen Foundation

The apartheid segregation system, which operated in South Africa between 1948 and 1994, was inspired by Australian laws. Lunch with the Family at Mignon Street, Cape Town is built around a recording of Roberta Joy Rich’s family and friends, recounting stories of resilience, survival, and oppression under apartheid. 

Rich says, ‘I hope this installation can serve as a timely interrogation of the underlying conditions of power and exclusion that continue to shape the ways we inhabit public space and reveal our capacity for collective resistance and change.’

3 Debbie Taylor Worley

The Barwon and Namoi Confluence 2020
Mehi River and Warialda Red 2020
Nundle Creek and Hanging Rock Gold 2020
from Earth and Water
canvas, ochre, gum arabic, recycled timber

Matriarch of the Mehi 2020
Rumi’s Tree, Walaay 2020
Yarrie Forest 2020
from Let There Be Trees 
canvas, pigment, charcoal, metallic thread, recycled timber

Debbie Taylor Worley describes her work as ‘an immersion into Baayangali, the nature of all things’. She adds, ‘I contemplated the memories of ancestors held in the water that bubbled over the rocky beds of the creeks. I thought of the stories they must hold and wondered of the lessons I was still to learn.’ Taylor Worley responds to Country by soaking canvasses in creeks, rivers, and lakes, pooling pigment over them, and working in local ochres, clays, muds, and charcoal from recent bushfires. Alongside them, she hangs smaller, similarly prepared canvases with charcoal rubbings of ancient trees found near each waterway. The smaller canvasses are embroidered with glistening gold thread, representing the gold found around Nundle, known as ‘the Hills of Gold’. 

4 Amanda Bennetts

The Spectacle of the Antagonist  2022
two-channel video, oscilloscope, medical trolley, auto poles, 2min 50sec

Amanda Bennetts challenges our social norms that prioritise able-bodied wellness. With its rabid montage of found footage, her video installation The Spectacle of the Antagonist contrasts the celebration of able-bodied protagonists and the treatment of illness in the movies.

5 Jess Tan

Inner Ear  2022–3
whittled bougainvillea branches pruned from mum’s garden, liquid beeswax, abandoned paper-wasp nests, soy wax, dried grapes, dried baby lemons, tubeworm shells, carved soapstone with accumulated algae from the bottom of my parents pond, dried nasturtiums, fresh kumquats, chewed bee propolis, rope dyed with purple cabbage leaves, adjusting knob from a wheely chair found in a carpark, egg shells from Tash’s bakery, pillow feathers, ceramics, orchid-flower clip, assorted reused wood from 2018–23, Cherry Coke cans, oil paint, pencil, paint pen, hat magnets, ladybug magnet, wishing stones, ceramic wand, star-shaped comb found next to a bin at Diamond Creek, found pipecleaner, sterling silver, repurposed smashed mirror pieces, scrap metal from the floor of a metal-recycling centre 2020–1, ceramic boots, ceramic swirl, glow-in-the-dark star found on the road in Johor Bahru, glass beads, beading wire, broken bus-stop glass collected along South Street, grout, oxide, wishing stones gifted from Natsumi, broken ceramics, staples, filler, tiles gifted by Jack, pencil, acrylic paint, corn hair, tinted beeswax 

Jess Tan works with material fragments she has encountered and collected while walking and eating, being and noticing. In her installations, these materials accumulate in iterative arrangements that follow their own logic. In her work, Tan imagines the fragment as ‘an open proposition; a subtle punctuation of possibility that pieces together a composition of material organs and emotions; a hug, a dance, or a long extended stretch outwards’.

6 Luke Brennan

Untitled  2022
oil, pencil, and wax on canvas

Untitled (Tears)  2022
acrylic, oil, coloured pencil, raw pigment, and wax on canvas 

Untitled (Still)  2022
acrylic, oil, coloured pencil, and wax on canvas

Untitled (SMAC 273)  2022
acrylic, oil, pencil, studio detritus, raw pigment, and wax on canvas 

Luke Brennan’s paintings appear at once densely layered and distressed. He explains, ‘While painting has historically been used to capture or fix an idea, I think of my works as being alive, with the commingling materials within them evidencing a lifeforce. The remnants left visible on the canvas embody an exchange, an emotional, organic sediment, solidified like sun-dried mud. Both creatively and scientifically, these paintings represent the richness and fragility of life itself.’

7 Matthew Brown

Exodia (#ClaireBishopArtCritic)  2023
found and digitally collected dragon-image objects, sublimation print on vinyl, inkjet and laser prints, video

Exodia (#ClaireBishopArtCritic) is a ‘dragon archive’, centred on an interest in the proliferation of dragon images and objects made accessible and collectible through the internet. Matthew Brown’s archive addresses traditional museological principles and display modes, but in the context of a new digital milieu that has destabilised notions of value and archival priorities. He explores the subversive possibilities of subjective, fan-oriented modes of collection.

8 Raf McDonald

Sand Dune a Dog, and a Knot in Motion  2023
alum, soda ash, vinegar, guar gum, xananth gum, clay, egg, sodium carbonate, citric acid, latex glue, magnesium sulfate, madder root, onion skin dye, cow dung, synthetic dye, woad dye, soil, raw canvas, repurposed cotton sheet, thread

Raf McDonald buried their painting Sand Dune a Dog, and a Knot in Motion in their backyard, inviting the earth to contribute to the work. The painting depicts a dog and a person, who emerge through reactive dyes and in mould lines where microbial matter grew, interacting with the rice glue bonded to the cotton. 

McDonald says, ‘by turning toward animals and non-human entities, I engage with what is unknowable. Materially this implicates other life histories, and leads me to reflect on aspects of climate, topography, hydrology, soils, vegetation, migration, class, and rental and husbandry laws shaping both the “backyard” and the art work.’

9 Joel Sherwood Spring

Diggermode  2022
two-channel video, 22min 50sec
Commissioned by Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Naarm/Melbourne

Wiradjuri artist Joel Sherwood Spring examines the contested narratives of Australia’s cultural and Indigenous history in the face of ongoing colonisation. Tracing the material and cultural implications of extraction and storage, his two-channel video Diggermode addresses the social and environmental ethics of digital technology in constructing, storing, and sharing images, whether in surveillance databases, in museum archives, or online. Using artificial intelligence, Spring has created landscapes—in the style of acclaimed Arrernte artist Albert Namatjira—being torn apart by mining machinery. His work confronts the viewer with uncomfortable and overlooked aspects of our networked age, addressing the possibilities of ‘the cloud’ and AI in the context of ongoing colonisation. 

10 Ash Tower

Ord[i]nance III  2023
lead, marbled paper, archive box

Neon Genesis 2022
copperplate etching

The ancient Romans made defixiones—magical curses inscribed on lead tablets seeking justice or vengeance. In Ord[i]nance III, Ash Tower replaces their Latin script with accumulated crosshairs from drone-strike footage, replacing the traditional divine gaze with a more ominous view from above, undermining the apparent righteousness of recent geopolitical conflicts. Neon Genesis flattens this accumulation into a ‘user interface’, suggesting the physical and psychological distance of contemporary conflicts, waged through screens, markets, and other sinister proxies.

11 Alrey Batol

Cooking and Heating  2019–22
recycled metal, hand-sourced clay, homemade concrete, crushed glass

Inspired by DIY aesthetics, Alrey Batol makes cookers and heaters using recycled and home-sourced materials: clay, crushed glass from beer bottles, concrete with homemade cement. 

Batol says, ‘The works remind me of my upbringing in the Philippines, where heating and cooking are still being done the old way, with fire fuelled by friendlier sources, such as kindling.’ 

12 Corben Mudjandi

Late-Night Thoughts  2023
inkjet print 

Davis  2022
inkjet print 

Night-Time Hitchhike  2022
inkjet print 

Photographer Corben Mudjandi is a traditional owner of Jabiru and parts of Kakadu and West Arnhem. In his younger years, he moved between Jabiru, Barunga, Darwin, and Katherine. In 2013, his family decided to stay put in Jabiru, on Mirarr country. His work explores living on Country and the isolation he has faced. Davis, Late-Night Thoughts, and Night-Time Hitchhike are analogue photographs depicting a lone figure at night. 

Mudjandi says, ‘I really like taking night shots. My favourite part of photography is capturing night atmosphere. There’s something about how the camera captures light in the dark. It’s what I enjoy most.’

Screening room

13 Melody Paloma

Kitsch Sites  2023
two-channel video, 29min 8sec 

Sound design: Tom Smith
Cinematography: Alena Lodkina
Archival footage: National Archives of Australia

Built between 1949 and 1974, the Snowy Mountains Scheme is the largest engineering project ever undertaken in Australia. Despite its significant environmental and cultural impacts, the myth of the Scheme elevates Australia as industrially, environmentally, and culturally progressive, while fortifying nationalist values. Kitsch Sites combines new, found, and archival footage to consider the Scheme as an aesthetic project with colonial kitsch at its centre. Here, colonial kitsch is seen as enacting a particular form of settler nativism, reproducing figures such as the battler, the pioneer, the melancholic, and the larrikin. Melody Paloma interrogates this mythmaking as violently mobilising nostalgia, sentiments of national belonging, and Indigenous dispossession.


Alrey Batol
Alrey Batol is a Philippines-born, Naarm/Melbourne-based multidisciplinary artist, whose practice involves the politics and accountability of material culture. Batol’s art practice is inspired by the Situationists and the anarchist philosophy of prefigurative politics - a term used to describe direct action in creating a world that one would like to see rather than imagine. Recent works are grounded in appropriate technology and DIY ethos, ranging from backyard ceramics and industrial design to papermaking and multimedia.

Batol graduated in Communication Design from QUT, Fine Art from Queensland College of Art and Honours in Fine Art in RMIT. Alrey was awarded the 2016 studio residency for Media Art Asia Pacific and has exhibited in various galleries and museums across the country including at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Metro Arts and Institute of Modern Art in Meanjin, Testing Grounds and The Wandering Room in Naarm.

Amanda Bennetts
Amanda Bennetts is a Sunshine Coast-based artist working across installation and still and moving image. Living with a progressive neurological disease, Bennetts draws on her experience to critically explore issues relating to sickness, cripness and disability. Examining what it means to be an ill-body in the world, Bennetts navigates a realm of living that is politically charged and socially determined. She creates large installations that engage materiality, incorporating video, sound and massproduced objects, often with clinical and disability aesthetics.

Bennetts recently completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Queensland College of Art, where she was awarded the 2022 Industry Award for Best In Show: Visual Arts, Photography and CAIA and the 2022 Outstanding Achievement in a Major—Photographic Art Practice. Bennetts is a co-director of IN | artist-run initiative at the Old Lockup in Maroochydore.

Dylan Bolger
Dylan Bolger (Maiawali, Karuwali, Pitta-Pitta, and Gomeroi) is an artist and architectural technician based in Meanjin/Brisbane. Bolger prioritises representing his people in his work, creating projects that promote awareness of the rich culture that was/still is here in so-called Australia. Bolger often creates highly visible public artworks, working to remember and restore culture in our collective consciousness. His recent work experiments with the Macaranga, an Old World and pioneer species of plant. As the plant is first to re-colonise environments that have been devastated by floods or fires, Bolger’s work explores ideas of his people and culture ‘growing back’ through the devastation of colonialism.

Bolger’s work has been exhibited in solo and group shows, including at Aboriginal Art Co (2023) and Level Up Studio + Gallery (2021), and is featured in the Queensland University of Technology’s Oodgeroo Unit, Kelvin Grove (2020). He has presented a mural for Brisbane City Council in Musgrave Park, Brisbane (2022), murals for the Princess Alexandra Hospital in the Mental Health Unit (2023), a mural for Fish Lane Arts Precinct (2023) and is presenting a mural for Cross River Rail, Albert Street as part of Brisbane Street Art festival in 2023. Bolger was the Artist in Residence at Aboriginal Art Co earlier this year.

Luke Brennan
Luke Brennan is a visual artist whose work germinates within the constructs of painting. He uses organic materials and biomorphic forms to cause disruptions in the flat surface of the painted picture. Repeated cycles of creation and reduction obliterate any trace of the artist, and all evidence of process. The painting appears degraded, singular and densely layered, as if a relic, its definition loose and its origins undefined.⁠

Luke Brennan lives and works in Sydney/Eora. He graduated from the Sydney College of the Arts with First Class Honours in 2018 and has presented in a number of solo and group shows in Sydney, Melbourne, and Europe. This is Luke’s second solo exhibition in Canberra/Kamberri, and the inaugural exhibition of Al Fresco.⁠

Matthew Brown
Matthew Brown is an interdisciplinary artist currently living and working in Boorloo/Perth. His practice-based projects explore which modes of display are most suitable (or could be developed) to engage with and present the ad-hoc assemblages of strange data and image-objects made accessible by the World Wide Web. 

Brown received his BFA (Honours with First Class Honours) from Curtin University in 2022. His work has been exhibited across Australia in both group and solo shows; including recent exhibitions at Bus Projects (VIC), Cool Change Contemporary (WA), and Feltspace (SA). He was a finalist in the 2020 City of Joondalup Invitation Art Prize, and included in the 2019 Print Award at the Fremantle Art Centre.

Raf McDonald
Raf McDonald (b. Awabakal/Newcastle) is an artist based in Naarm/Melbourne working across gallery settings and public spaces. They enact queer approaches to painting by attending to colours, textures, improvisations and hand-made materials. These processes lead the artist to imagine and propose different ways of relating; to each other; our environments and non-human beings. 

McDonald has held solo exhibitions at Chapter House Lane Gallery, TCB Gallery and Fort Delta and appeared in collaborative and group shows at Footscray Community Arts Centre, Blindside Gallery, West Space, Lon Gallery, Mel X NYC Festival, Daine Singer Gallery, Spring 1883, the Substation, Cemeti House and Sangkring Art Space in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Their murals have been commissioned by Arts House Melbourne, Moonee Valley City Council, Melbourne Metro Authority, City of Stonnington and Shepparton Art Gallery. They hold a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Victorian College of the Arts (2015) and a Bachelor of Creative Arts from the University of Melbourne (2009). 

Corben Mudjandi
Corben Mudjandi is a Mirarr Traditional Owner of Jabiru as well as parts of Kakadu and West Arnhem. Corben was born in Darwin and in his younger years moved between Jabiru, Barunga, Darwin and Katherine. In 2013, Corben's family decided to stay put in Jabiru on Mirarr country. Stephen Mudjandi, Corben's father is the older brother of Rodney, Rosie & Simon Mudjandi. Corben's grandfather and Stephen’s father, Jimmy Mudjandi was brother to Toby Gangale. Toby was a Mirarr Senior Traditional Owner during the 1970s and 80s and lead the strong resistance to uranium mining on Mirarr country.

Corben works for Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation as a labourer and as a board director. In his spare time, Corben likes to play video games, hunt, fish and develop film he’s shot. Corben is a huge history buff and loves to learn as much as he can about world history. His work explores living on Country – especially moving to Jabiru from his family’s home in the outstation of Djirrbiyak (Whistle Duck) and some of the isolation he has faced. Corben exhibited at Brunswick Street Gallery in November 2022 with his solo show, ‘Self-metaphor’. In June 2023, he will be embarking on an international residency in Italy and exhibiting at Countless Cities Biennale of FARM Cultural Park in Sicily.

Melody Paloma
Melody Paloma is a writer and artist, currently based in Naarm/Melbourne. Her writing practice forms the foundation for her visual arts practice, which spans across performance, collaboration, and video. Paloma’s work interrogates colonial aesthetics, infrastructure, and the politics of work. 

Her first poetry collection, In Some Ways Dingo, was published with Rabbit in 2017. Over the course of 2018 she produced Some Days, a durational chapbook-length work published by Stale Objects de Press and performed in 2019 with Liquid Architecture. Her performance work Code Poems, was commissioned by Gertrude Contemporary for Octopus 19: Ventriloquy. Her chapbook I Love It Here is forthcoming with Sick Leave in 2023 and will ground a video work by the same title. 

Roberta Joy Rich
Roberta Joy Rich is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Naarm/Melbourne. Often referencing her diaspora southern African Cape identity and experiences she utilises language, text, archives, sometimes satire and storytelling as a platform to interrogate constructs of race, gender, Western singularity and notions of authenticity. Drawing focus from communal knowledge systems, history, socio-political and popular culture, much of her video, installation, sound and mixed media projects explore histories of resilience and power. She is interested in the possibilities of re-framing archives and the potential of anarchiving, with the aim to deconstruct colonial modalities and propose empowering narratives of self-determination.

Rich holds a Master of Fine Arts with APA Scholarship from Monash University. She has been the recipient of the ACMI x Ian Potter Cultural Trust Artist Development Grant, the Australia Council for the Arts Project Grant, and NAVA's Freedman Foundation Travelling Scholarship. Rich has also completed residencies with BLINDSIDE, Melbourne in partnership with the National Trust; Testing Grounds, Melbourne; Greatmore Studios, Cape Town; and TwilSharp Studios and Assemblage Studio, Johannesburg. Rich has exhibited at Monash University, Federation Square, Footscray Community Arts, Kings Artist Run Initiative, and Bus Projects, Melbourne; Firstdraft and UNSW Galleries, Sydney; FELTspace, and SASA Gallery, Adelaide; Metro Arts, Brisbane; as well as in Johannesburg, Western Cape, and Cape Town, South Africa.

Joel Sherwood Spring
Joel Sherwood Spring is a Wiradjuri anti-disciplinary artist who works collaboratively on projects that sit outside established discourses of contemporary art, architecture and power. Spring’s discursive and spatial practice examines the contested narratives of Australia’s urban cultural and Indigenous history in the face of ongoing colonisation.

Spring’s works have been exhibited in how I see it: Blak art and film, at the Australian Centre for Moving Image; the 4th National Indigenous Art Triennial: Ceremony, at the National Gallery of Australia; EAVESDROPPING–a Liquid Architecture and Melbourne Law School touring exhibition–at City Gallery Wellington and the Ian Potter Museum; and at Documenta 15, Fridskul Kollectif; the Goethe Insititute; Campbelltown Art Centre; and West Space. Spring is also Co-Director of Future Method Studio, a collaborative and interdisciplinary practice working across architecture, installation and speculative projects.⁠

Jess Tan
Jess Tan is a multidisciplinary artist currently based in Boorloo/Perth. Her associative drawing practice forms a biomorphic language that expands into sculpture and site-specific installations. She follows an inquiry into how materials morph through ongoing reconfiguration and can generate unfamiliar ways of knowing and understanding through their affective capacities.

Jess has exhibited solo and collaborative works at sweet pea, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Bundoora Homestead Arts Centre, TCB gallery, KINGS ARI, Fremantle Arts Centre and Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts. As an extension of her arts practice, Jess operates a clothing regeneration service called digesting. Jess is represented by sweet pea, Boorloo/Perth.

Debbie Taylor Worley
Debbie Taylor Worley is a multidisciplinary artist creating site-specific earth- and water-based artworks while spending time upon her ancestral Gamilaraay land. Preferencing natural and foraged materials that are connected to Country and working within the landscape and directly on the ground, Worley’s work draws on Ancestral and intuitive guidance, creating work that bridges bi-cultural divides. Worley’s arts-based research includes the symbols used in “women’s business” rituals associated with her Gamilaraay and coloniser heritage, and decolonising colonial narratives.

Worley was the winner of the 2018 Redlands Art Award. She was awarded the Windmill Trust Scholarship in 2020 and the Vida Lahey Memorial Travelling Scholarship in 2021. She is a sessional lecturer within the Bachelor of Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art degree at Queensland College of Art and is currently a Doctor of Visual Art candidate. 

Ash Tower
Ash Tower is an artist and researcher based on Kaurna Country, South Australia. His materially diverse practice combines architecture, archaeology, and history to investigate how knowledge is constructed. His most recent work explores the relationship between nuclear technology and funerary architecture.

Tower has shown work nationally including exhibitions at ACE (2022), Adelaide Central Gallery (2022), Pig Melon (2021), Floating Goose (2021) and Cool Change Contemporary (2018) as part of the Unhallowed Arts Festival. He received a PhD in 2019 from the University of South Australia and currently teaches art history and theory at the Adelaide Central School of Art.