Tony Albert was born in Townsville, Queensland, in 1981. His family comes from Cardwell and he's a descendant of the Girramay, Yidinji and Kuku-Yalanji peoples.
In 2004, Albert graduated from the Queensland College of Art at Griffith University with a degree in Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art.
Albert's grandfather Eddie Albert served in World War II. Eddie's wartime experiences were a source of inspiration for Albert.
Eddie enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in 1940. As a member of the 2/15th Australian Infantry Battalion, Eddie served in the Middle East before becoming a prisoner of war (POW). He was held in Italian and German POW camps until the end of the war. There's archival film footage of Eddie returning to Australia.
Role as an official war artist
In 2012, Albert became the first Aboriginal Australian to be appointed as an official war artist. He was attached to the Army's Regional Surveillance Force North West Mobile Unit (NORFORCE).
First Nations peoples make up half of NORFORCE. They are mostly recruited from the area they patrol to draw on local knowledge.
As an official war artist, Albert was documenting the relationship between the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and First Australians. His artwork acknowledged the ongoing role of Indigenous communities in the defence of Australia.
As part of his service experience, Albert trained in weapon handling, navigation, first aid, basic drill and signalling.
The Australian War Memorial holds many of Albert's NORFORCE photographs.
Albert also created a recruitment poster for NORFORCE. The word 'deadly' resonates with many people in Indigenous communities as something that is good or amazing. Albert created the poster as a tribute to the young army recruits he worked alongside.
I saw the recruits as everyday superheroes, they had this incredible power ... they wanted to stand up in their communities and be proud and strong.
[Tony Albert, March 2013, Be Deadly - NORFORCE, Australian War Memorial]
Albert's artworks include drawings, painting, photography and installation. He explores the issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia. In 2013, he painted a four panelled artwork, Coloured Diggers.
This artwork highlights past injustices of Indigenous military service. Many First Nations peoples who served in World War II felt a lack of recognition following their repatriation. Again, Albert uses the word 'deadly' to convey his message:
As Indigenous soldiers they faced a deadly mission, their warrior skills made them deadly to their enemy, and their courage and strength in the face of adversity makes them “deadly” to us.
[Coloured Diggers, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C2091841]
Recognition of his work
Albert continues to create powerful artworks and has received many awards. He exhibits in major museums and private collections throughout the world.
In 2014, Albert won the Basil Sellers Art Prize and the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. In 2015, he was given a residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Program in New York.
The City of Sydney commissioned Albert to create a memorial in Hyde Park. He unveiled his work, Yininmadyemi - Thou didst let fall, in 2015. Inspired by his grandfather's service in World War II, the memorial honours the military service of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women.
Albert was also awarded the 2016 Fleurieu Art Prize for his installation, The Hand You’re Dealt.
He is a member of the Art Gallery of NSW Trust, helping to judge the Archibald Prize, and a member of the gallery's Indigenous Advisory Group.