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Chancellor’s Art Prize winner explores inner journey of surrender

An abstract painting with yellow and purple tones


Cloe Jager
18 December 2023

Bachelor of Art and Design student Aafia Ali Shah has won the Southern Cross University Chancellor’s Art Prize for her work that explores themes of spirituality and surrender.

The Chancellor’s Art Prize is an annual acquisition award for excellence in contemporary visual art with a $3,000 prize. Aafia was awarded for her work Inevitability, which will be introduced to Southern Cross University’s Art Collection.

The selection panel included Southern Cross University’s Chancellor Sandra McPhee AM, Course Coordinator of the Bachelor of Art and Design and Senior Lecturer Dr Marian Tubbs, and host of The Art Show on ABC Radio National, Daniel Browning.

“The artwork is a spiritual investigation into the inner journey of surrender.”

A student sitting under a tree

The winning artwork was part of a larger body of work entitled States before Expansion. “The artwork is a spiritual investigation into the inner journey of surrender,” Aafia said.

“The spaces defined in this project exist in moments before a breaking point: the point of surrender where one can no longer find solace in the physical world and instead turns to the unknown to seek a greater sense of ‘Truth’.

Inevitability is grounded in feelings where the physical world starts to feel really alien and really temporary to you. It’s an acceptance of destruction and the limitations of physical being.

“As a concept, that relates to my spirituality as a Muslim. It’s tied in with a specific concept in spirituality, which is ego death. It's a process that allows you to connect more strongly and more truthfully with yourself, where physical attachments and materiality becomes a much lesser part of your being, where you're not tied to the physical world anymore.”

The body of work was created with acrylic paint on a wooden board and paper.

An abstract painting with yellow and purple tones
Inevitability (2023) by Aafia Ali Shah won the 2023 Chancellor's Art Prize

When announcing the winner, Chancellor Sandra McPhee AM said, “Aafia’s winning work demonstrates a spiritual investigation connected to her heritage and is representative of the remarkable breadth of creativity and diversity at Southern Cross.

“It is an honour to have Aafia’s work grow the collection and to be able to provide an ongoing opportunity for the exhibition of her artwork. I congratulate all of the students who submitted outstanding work this year.”

Aafia said she is grateful to be the recipient of the Chancellor’s Art Prize: “It’s amazing to have your work validated. I’m so grateful for the honour of the prize but also that there was value seen in what I made.”

Aafia is now exploring exhibition opportunities inside Australia and abroad. She says her time studying the Bachelor of Art and Design has set up for a successful career as an artist.

“I received so much encouragement and professional insight into being an artist. It’s been very informative. I’ve really enjoyed the experience.”

Learn more about studying the Bachelor of Art and Design.

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