When Canberra artist Narelle Zeller first decided to paint a portrait of Aunty Matilda House, she knew she wanted to capture the Ngambri elder's connection to culture.
The resulting painting - which is a contender for the National Portrait Gallery's Darling Portrait Prize - aims to evoke a sense of storytelling, and to share Ms House's story of resilience, as well as her strong connection to Country.
Ms House has dedicated her life to Indigenous affairs and seeking social justice for Australia's First Peoples. She is one of the ACT's pioneering Indigenous campaigners, and the first person to perform a Welcome to Country at the opening of Federal Parliament.
"She is a strong, inspiring woman in the community and an important First Nations figure that I felt would be important to portray and celebrate," Zeller said.
"I wanted this portrait to be a good representation of who she is and what she stands for. Being wrapped in the traditional possum skin cloak offers a powerful connection to her ancestors and culture."
The portrait itself is almost life-sized, and is the artist's largest painting to date.
But Zeller wouldn't have it any other way. She wanted to capture Ms House in a way that the viewer felt like they were in the room with the woman herself every time they saw the portrait.
Of course, this didn't make for a short process. The portrait took about four months to complete and involved multiple layers of oil paint, particularly when trying to capture the artwork's different textures, such as that of the possum fur.
Despite the long process, Zeller always knew one thing - that she wanted to submit the work to the Darling Portrait Prize.
"Although she is recognised nationally, I felt it was important that Matilda's portrait hang here on Ngambri-Ngunnawal Country and what better place than on the walls of our National Portrait Gallery," Zeller said.
"The Darling Portrait Prize offered the perfect opportunity, I am so grateful to have been selected as a finalist and that the painting will be on display there."
This is the second time Zeller has been chosen as a finalist in the Darling Portrait Prize, having been selected in the inaugural competition in 2020 for a portrait she did of close friend Carma Sweet.
The Darling Portrait Prize is a biennial event honouring the legacy of L. Gordon Darling, who was instrumental in establishing the National Portrait Gallery. The prize aims to highlight and nurture the art of Australian portrait painting and offers a $75,000 cash prize for the winner.
The Darling Portrait Prize winner will be announced on June 24. The corresponding exhibition, which includes Zeller's portrait of Ms House, will be at the National Portrait Gallery from June 25 to October 9.
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