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Angus McDonald, 'Behrouz Boochani' Archibald Prize finalist 2020
Photograph: Supplied/AGNSW | Angus McDonald, 'Behrouz Boochani', 2020

Portrait of Behrouz Boochani wins the Archibald’s people's choice award

Angus McDonald’s painting of the Kurdish-Iranian writer has captured the public

Alannah Maher

The winner of the Archibald Prize’s people’s choice award for 2020 has been announced, and the portrait to take out the award depicts someone who has never stepped foot on Australian soil – Kurdish-Iranian writer, poet, filmmaker, journalist and former Manus Island detainee, Behrouz Boochani.

Boochani was held in offshore detention as a refugee for six years by the Australian federal government before being granted asylum in New Zealand in July 2020. The artist, Sydney-born Angus McDonald, first made contact with Boochani in 2018 while creating a short film about the detention centre in which Boochani was being held. McDonald says he attempted to visit Boochani on Manus in 2019, however Papua New Guinea authorities intervened and he was sent on the first flight back to Australia.

The two men finally met after Boochani arrived in New Zealand, and Boochani sat for the portrait over five days during a visit. 

“I’ve depicted Boochani directly engaging the viewer as a strong, confident and peaceful man who survived a brutal ordeal and is now free,” McDonald said in a statement. “Boochani doesn’t view himself as a victim. Through his work he tirelessly struggled for years against the system that tried to humiliate him. In my view, it was he who humiliated them.”

This has been a historic year for the popular national portrait prize. In September Vincent Namatjira was announced as the overall winner of the Archibald Prize for his portrait of sportsman Adam Goodes, becoming the first First Nations artist to take out the coveted award.

The finalists of the Archibald Prize are showing at the Art Gallery of New South Wales until January 10. Find out more here

Want more? Here are the best art exhibitions to see in Sydney this month

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