LISMORE artist Karla Dickens's winning art work will feature in the touring exhibition of last year's $40,000 Parliament of NSW Aboriginal Art Prize, opening at the Lismore Regional Gallery today.
Titled January 26, Day of Mourning, the 2.8x1.2m Australian flag has been hand-embroidered with a pattern of dotted crosses to signify the personal stories of grief behind Australia's national symbol.
Ms Dickens found the slightly tattered, weathered flag at the tip and managed to turn it into a powerful evocative statement on her mixed feelings about Australia Day.
Of the 35 finalists in last year's awards, four are from the Northern Rivers, including Lismore area locals Digby Moran, Penny Evans, Lorraine Brown, Karla Dickens and Grafton-based Bevan Skinner.
Styles on display in the exhibition range from the political to the personal; abstract styles as well as landscapes and nature-based work.
Lorraine Brown, who turns 60 on Sunday, said she was "born into art" in a small town on the border of Queensland and NSW.
Her earliest memory was using sticks and stones to draw circles and patterns in the dirt and mud after heavy rains in her community - what she remembered fondly as "child's play".
"I could be alone in my space," Ms Brown said.
She described her work, Lunar Eclipse over the Sacred Lagoon, as a "marriage of past, present, the male, the female, and the outer journey and the inner journey".
Lismore Regional Gallery director Brett Adlington said Aboriginal artists of NSW held a special place in the lexicon of both Australian and Australian Aboriginal art.
While artists based in Northern and Central Australia often focused on traditional styles, in NSW artists had complete freedom to explore individual ideas.
Mr Adlington said many Aboriginal artists were dealing with similar concerns and often had to work harder to get established.
"Even applying for grants can be a really tough barrier for any marginalised community."
"The fact that there's a really healthy community of artists in the state is inspiring."