Justine Youssef wins 2019 John Fries Award for ‘Under the table I learnt how to feed you’

June 21, 2019

The Copyright Agency has today announced Sydney artist Justine Youssef as the winner of the $10,000 John Fries Award at the opening of the award exhibition at UNSW Galleries. The judges also highly commended mother-daughter duo Betty Chimney and Raylene Walatinna from South Australia for their work Nganmpa Ngura (Our Country).

Now celebrating its 10th year, the prestigious John Fries Award recognises the talents of early career visual artists from Australia and New Zealand, showcasing some of the region’s most experimental and provocative works.

Ms Youssef was awarded the prize for her performative, video and installation work Under the table I learnt how to feed you, which calls attention to personal and collective narratives influenced by neo-colonial rhetoric, feminist lenses and diasporic and material exchanges.

In this work, Youssef documents the women in her family as they ‘arrogate space’ in the courtyard of a Lebanese bakery in South-West Sydney, a site of social and cultural significance for the Arabic population in the area.

“These women’s actions speak to the invisibility of women in public spaces, positing matrilineal gestures as forms of resilience and resistance in the face of ongoing branding, urban development and gentrification of ‘Western Sydney’. Through methods of social engagement, I connect familial histories and local narratives of undocumented immigrant labour with present politics of gentrification and displacement,” explains Ms Youssef.

Curated by Melbourne-based visual arts curator and writer Miriam Kelly, The John Fries Award Exhibition features all 10 finalists’ works, and is open to the public at the award’s presenting partner UNSW Galleries from 21 June to 27 July.

Miriam Kelly says, while this year’s judging process was very difficult, with all artists presenting accomplished and ambitious developments in their practices, the judges found Justine Youssef’s conceptual and aesthetic approach very well resolved and compelling.

“The work addresses complex collective contemporary concerns of undocumented migrant labour, cultural continuity, matrilineal learning and gentrification through a sophisticated, carefully nuanced lens. The work is simultaneously a celebration, an homage, a documentation and remembrance.”

“The judges were also unanimous in highly commending the extraordinary painting by mother and daughter collaborative, Betty Chimney and Raylene Walatinna, Nganampa Ngura (Our Country), noting the role of intergenerational learning in keeping cultural stories strong, both in paint and in Yankunytjatjara language, bursts from every inch of this vibrant large scale painting.”

Copyright Agency CEO Adam Suckling says, “The Copyright Agency is proud to continue supporting the John Fries Award, now in its 10th year, as it highlights the incredible talent of our local early career artists. Awards such as this strengthen and champion Australia’s contemporary art as it affords early career artists the space and time to create.”

Chosen from a wide scope of almost 500 applicants, the 10 finalists include Madison Bycroft, Betty Chimney and Raylene Walatinna, Dean Cross, David Greenhalgh, Nadia Hernàndez, Jenna Lee, Hayley Millar-Baker, Elena Papanikolakis, Justine Youssef and The Ryan Sisters. Each finalist receives a $1,000 artist fee from the Copyright Agency.

The winner of this year’s award was determined by a panel of guest judges including curator Miriam Kelly alongside Indigenous artist Fiona Foley, UNSW Galleries Director José Da Silva, CEO of Studio A Gabrielle Mordy, as well as artist and daughter of the late John Fries, Kath Fries.

The Fries family generously established the John Fries Award in 2010 in memory of former Viscopy director and honorary treasurer John Fries, who made a remarkable contribution to the life and success of the organisation. Viscopy merged with The Copyright Agency on 30 November 2017.

The 2019 John Fries Award exhibition will run from 21 June to 27 July at the UNSW Galleries in Paddington and is free of charge and open to the public. For more information visit: www.johnfriesaward.com

NOTE: On Saturday 22 June at 10am, a number of the artists will speak about their works.


Jane Morey
morey media
t: 02 9436 2111
e: jane@moreymedia.com.au

Betty Chimney and Raylene Walatinna were Highly Commended for their work Nganmpa Ngura (Our Country). Photo supplied.


The not-for-profit Copyright Agency, which merged with Viscopy on 30 November 2017, connects users and creators of content, providing licences for the use of copyright material such as fine art, text, images and survey plans. We manage the educational and government licences for the use of text and images, as well as the resale royalty scheme for artists (by Government appointment). Our members include artists, writers, surveyors and publishers. Membership is free. www.copyright.com.au


The John Fries Award winner receives $10,000. The Award is non-acquisitive. Previous winners include Akil Ahamat, Kuba Dorabialski, Eric Demetriou, Ben Ward, Bridie Lunney, Jess Olivieri and Hayley Forward, Jacob Leary, Sanne Mestrom and Hannah Bertram. Previous curators have included Oliver Watts, Sebastian Goldspink, Venita Poblocki, Andrew Leslie and Consuelo Cavaniglia. www.johnfriesaward.com


UNSW Galleries brings together the work of leading Australian and international practitioners, curators and writers working in the fields of contemporary art and design. Encompassing three principal exhibition spaces, the Galleries are a platform for examining contemporary visual and material culture through exhibitions and public programs. UNSW Galleries opened in 2014 and builds on the legacy of the former Ivan Dougherty Gallery at UNSW, which under the leadership of the late Nick Waterlow played an influential role in Australian and international contemporary art and culture. artdesign.unsw.edu.au/unsw-galleries

Opening concurrently at UNSW Galleries is ‘Material Place: Reconsidering Australian Landscapes’ curated by Ellie Buttrose and ‘Debra Porch: Art should make life more interesting than art’ curated by José Da Silva. Exhibitions continue to 7 September.

For UNSW Galleries media inquiries please contact:
Kelly Doley, Deputy Director, UNSW Galleries
t: 0421 440 348
e: kelly.doley@unsw.edu.au

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