'8200 Souls' sleeping rough in Aus inspire Mandorla Art Award winner

Britt Mikkelsen from Western Australia has won the Mandorla Art Award 2021, with a found object, resin and LED lighting work entitled ‘8200 Souls’.

The win earns the artist a $25,000 Acquisitive Prize, sponsored by St John of God Health Care.

“The draped figure in this artwork is pierced with 8200 holes, with each individual hole representing every person who sleeps rough in Australia each night. Confronted with homelessness almost every day, the challenge for us all is to see the humanity behind the problem. It is easy to walk by and to ignore the person beneath the blanket, and as such the homeless have become invisible,” reads the artist’s statement that explains Mikkelsen’s winning work.

“But under every blanket, and every cardboard box, is a shining soul with a story not unlike our own. This unsettling figure represents the homeless crisis, but the work is also a self-portrait of humility. It asks us to be less judgmental, empathise with others and to love everyone regardless of their situation.”

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Mandorla Art Award, with last year’s awards delayed due to COVID-19. The awards saw 144 entrants create works based on Micah 6:8:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Winner Mikkelsen graduated from Curtin University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1993. Her work uses resins and plastics to examine humans’ influence on the world.

“Negative space is employed to explore fragility and impermanence, and her work often features light – either natural or man-made – to create a sense of awe and wonder,” says the Award’s bio about the artist.

The Mandorla is not Mikkelsen’s first foray into the art world – she has has exhibited at Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi, NSW, on five occasions; at the event in 2018, she won a Helen Lempriere Scholarship for an emerging artist.

Her work is also held in public collections including the cities of Melville, Stirling and Cockburn, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, as well as in many private collections.

“The draped figure in this artwork is pierced with 8200 holes with each individual hole representing every person who sleeps rough in Australia each night.” – Britt Mikkelsen, Mandorla Art Award winner 2021

Yet, taking out the Mandorla Art Award for contemporary religious art is an especially unique honour, as one of Australia’s most prestigious religious art awards and the country’s most significant thematic Christian art prize.

“Mandorla” – the Italian word for almond – refers to an almond-shaped halo or aura that is seen around images of Jesus or Mary in Christian art, and particularly in Catholic and Orthodox icons. It represents the light emanating from a divine being, or one very close to a divine being.

The Mandorla Art Award is held every two years in Perth, Western Australia, and for each award a different theme is chosen for artists to respond to. The Award offers artists and the public a new vision of a very old vision – the place of the Christian religion in art.

“Wishing to balance the largely secular nature of most art seen in today’s galleries, the Mandorla Art Award Committee selects a particular theme or passage from the Bible, Old or New Testaments. This unique approach among Australian religious art prizes invites artists to think laterally and with sensitivity by interpreting this in two or three-dimensional works,” explains the Award team.

Each award sees around 40 works selected as finalists – artworks which challenge viewers to embrace diversity and to view the world through different perspectives and sensibilities.

To see all the Award finalists, and to vote in the Mandorla’s People’s Choice Awards – open until April 15, 2021 – click here.