Held every two years, the Ramsay Art Prize is the richest prize for Australian artists under 40. The $100,000 prize is considered career-changing. In 2021 it went to Kate Bohunnis, and the 2019 winner was Vincent Namatjira, who went on to take the Archibald Prize the following year.

Announced today, the 2023 Ramsay Art Prize winner is Adelaide artist Ida Sophia, for her performance-based video work Witness, which premieres at the Art Gallery of South Australia today and will be acquired as part of AGSA’s permanent collection.

Informed by an early childhood experience at her dad’s baptism, Witness was shot in a single take at the Pool of Siloam in Wirmalngrang/Beachport, in regional South Australia. The single-channel video work depicts the artist being repeatedly submerged in an intense series that takes a single baptism to the level of relentless obsession.

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“The Ramsay Art Prize sets out to elevate and accelerate careers for contemporary Australian artists. Ida Sophia is clearly at a pivotal point in her career – her winning work Witness is technically and conceptually resolved, capturing the breadth of her practice to this point,” AGSA director Rhana Devenport ONZM said in a statement.

This year’s Ramsay Art Prize judges were Aaron Seeto, director of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Nusantara; Perth-based visual artist and creative producer Erin Coates; and Nici Cumpston OAM, AGSA’s artistic director of Tarnanthi and curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. They were unanimous in their decision.

“Ida Sophia’s winning work, Witness, is sophisticated in concept and deeply emotive in subject, successfully embodying and transmitting a very visceral experience through video, which can be technically difficult to achieve,” Seeto said in a statement.

A former student of the Marina Abramovic Institute in Greece, Sophia draws on the body for her performance and installation works, which tend to be characterised by uncomfortable examinations of hope, regret, familial tension and grief. Her late dad has inspired her work before – including Regret, a 28-day durational performance confronting guilt and remorse, in which guests were invited to write their own regrets onto 1000 white plaster tablets and attach them to the artist’s clothes. Sophia spent six hours each day observing an installation of flowers as they slowly decomposed – an act of redemption for her absence during the last month of her father’s life – while audience members attached their own regrets to the artist so she could bear that weight.

“We carry regret around for so long that it becomes a part of us – it’s so heavy,” Sophia said at the time. “We do not realise how its weight prevents us from living fully, we drag it around into everything we do, every interaction we have … Yes, the purpose of this performance is to mourn, but it is really to understand, to confront, to make friends with regret and free ourselves from its clutches.”

Sophia was selected from 27 Ramsay Art Prize finalists from across the country. Among them is New South Wales artist Abdul Abdullah for his five-panel, 10-metre-long panoramic oil painting Legacy Assets, which depicts the landscape near Berrima, NSW. The work began as a critique of the historical role of colonial Australian landscape painters, and further developed after researching the lives, memoirs and diaries of celebrated post-war Australian artists. And Adelaide artist Sundari Carmody made the shortlist with her installation The Mountain. Inspired by ancient ritual objects and sacred sites, it ponders what a temple of the future might hold, smell like and be dedicated to.

Yankunytjatjara artist Zaachariaha Fielding, who recently won the $50,000 Wynne Prize for his painting Inma, was selected as a finalist for his suite of 16 works on cardboard, depicting figures he refers to as “gremlins”. Each one represents the battling voices, internal and external, of flattery and insult, pleasure and pain, which he sees as an opportunity to learn and develop by figuring out how to navigate them.

All the shortlisted works – including large-scale pieces, multimedia installations, paintings, sculpture and more – will be exhibited in a major free exhibition at AGSA, open to the public from tomorrow until August 27.

A People’s Choice Prize of $15,000 will be chosen by the public and announced on Friday August 11. The previous winner was Melbourne artist Hoda Afshar for an emotive artwork about whistleblowing.