Prominent Arnhem Land Yolngu artist Djambawa Marawili has won the prestigious top prize at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards in Darwin.
Marawili's bark painting, Journey to America 2018 is made from natural pigments on stringybark and was the overall winner from more than 280 entries and 68 finalists at the 36th Telstra NATSIAAs, announced on Friday night.
The painting reflects on his recent travels to the United States and aims to depict the promotion of Yolngu philosophy, spirit and ideas flowing between the two countries.
Journey to America 2018 shows Australia indicated by the iconic coat of arms, the trip towards America and the Statue of Liberty.
His past artworks were used to instigate the High Court case in 2008 that ruled Aboriginal ownership of land by his people should extend to fishing rights in some waters.
Marawili, a 66-year-old leader in remote Yilpara, has been curating an exhibition of bark paintings by Yolngu artists, including the collection of the late American entrepreneur John Kluge, who was once one of the richest people in the US.
Art for Marawili was a "political tool" and a way to spread "love, peace, joy and humility", he said.
It is a crucial cultural practice for Aboriginal people, who did not develop a traditional system of writing.
"Sometimes it is really political, when I want to use it as a political tool for fisheries or for native title," he said.
"We have to make patterns like this instead of writing on a document or getting lawyers or wherever ... that is a powerful way and peaceful of stopping the ruining of our country.
Indigenous leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu hung two bark paintings behind him that illustrated the loss of animals and water through mining, while announcing at the Garma Festival last week plans for a Native Title claim seeking compensation.
The oldest reliably confirmed rock art in Australia is dated at 28,000 years and is in Arnhem Land.
However today many Indigenous artists do not know what becomes of their work after it is sold and often ends up overseas, Marawili said.
"We are really proud because we are reaching out to neighbours in another city across the ocean, sharing knowledge and the wisdoms," he said.
"We are making a pathway and reconciliation across the sea."
Australian Associated Press