ANU Student Wins Prestigious Eloquence Art Prize

Photo supplied by Robert Wellington
Photo supplied by Robert Wellington
Thursday 5 October 2023

Poppy Thomson, an Honours student in Art History and Curatorial Studies at the Australian National University (ANU) has won the Eloquence Art Prize, held at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA).

Competing against four other finalists from the National Art School (Sydney), the University of Western Australia, The University of Sydney, and the University of Melbourne. Her presentation on Australian artist Bonita Ely and French artist Cathryn Boch, received praise from the jury for her confident delivery and best addressing the theme of “Art and Environment, France and Australia.” Both artists, she reveals, utilise cartographic elements to offer a personal and political response to climate change, reinventing what mapping the environment means in this era.

“I love maps – we use them all the time, even unconsciously. Ely maps the slow violence inflicted on a specific place and Boch brings into immediate conversation a plethora of geographies. Yet, both approaches seem to reach a similar conclusion, reinventing what it means to map the environment.”

Not shy in front of an audience, Poppy remarks, “I think I have always been a confident speaker in some way – I was a loud kid. In high school I did a lot of drama. It certainly taught me how to memorise things quickly (I never learnt my lines until the last minute) and speak confidently in front of a crowd. I also had a lot of fantastic teachers that really nurtured this skill, so maybe it was learnt to an extent. I also think when you are speaking about something you feel genuinely passionate about that comes through.”

Upon receiving the prestigious accolade, Poppy expressed her astonishment, “This is such a cliché, but it honestly does feel surreal. Perhaps it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. When I first applied, I never imagined I would get to the finals, there are so many phenomenal art history students at the ANU with such a great range of experience and interests. Furthermore, everyone at the competition was so lovely and each presenter was confident, insightful and eloquent (as the title implies)."

The Eloquence Art Prize recognises an individual’s art scholarship and includes an additional prize package. This includes: return flight to Paris; meetings with top art professionals in Paris; participation in a three-week "Summer program" at École du Louvre; meeting with the Foundation Cartier, 1 to 3 weeks accommodation in Paris and contribution to living expenses, totalling $500.

With such a splendid prize, Poppy is looking forward to taking part in the summer school. She is excited to broaden her, “perspective on the art world” and “make some connections with professionals in the Paris art scene, maybe put some roots down. I’m thinking about what internships I could add on to the trip. I’ll also work on my French speaking skills a lot. I also really love almond croissants so I’m looking forward to that (but nothing beats La Baguette).”

There was never really a “lightbulb moment” sparking a passion for art history and curatorial studies, instead Poppy says, “it was a passion acquired slowly. I loved art in high school, was lucky to travel to some amazing museums in my gap year and then took the plunge by choosing to do a degree in art history and curatorship. I was actually tossing up between a lot of degrees – music, fine arts, even law... But within the first year of my degree I knew I’d made the right decision. Chaitanya Sambrani often says that art history is the niece (or granddaughter, I can’t remember) of all the social sciences. I’m interested in a lot of things, poetry, writing, music, philosophy – which is why art history is perfect, because it incorporates, or encompasses, everything and anything. I love art, but art history and curatorship is just a wonderful way of viewing the world.”

Poppy is grateful for the expertise and guidance of her professors, crediting her supervisor, Associate Professor Robert Wellington, as well as Associate Professor Chaitanya Sambrani, Dr Kate Warren, Dr Raquel Ormella and Professor Brenda L. Croft for their mentorship, inspiration and support. If there’s one course art students should take, Poppy suggests getting involved in Australian First Nations Art and Culture.

With dreams of curating shows in both local and international galleries, she aims to provide emerging artists with the platforms they often lack. While her goals stretch from local exhibits to esteemed institutions and advanced academic pursuits, she remains grounded in her belief that hard work and patience will usher in the right opportunities.

“I’m a big believer that if you put the work in, opportunities will come your way, so truth be told I’m just taking things as they come. The art world can also be quite an intimidating place so it is great to take things one step at a time.”

For further information about the Eloquence Art Prize and Poppy Thomson's presentation, please visit this link. To view a pre-record of Poppy's presentation click here.


Original article published on ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences.


Updated:  5 October 2023/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications