Earlier this year, 30-year-old South Australian Kate Bohunnis was awarded the 2021 Ramsay Art Prize for her precarious pendulum-swinging work Edges of excess, a visceral portrait of wellness and anxiety. As part of the prize (worth $100,000), the artwork is permanently acquired by the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) – the host of the awards, which are held every two years.

The secondary prize is chosen by the public – one that is considered “an achievement of utmost praise to the artist,” says Rhana Devenport ONZM, AGSA’s director.

This year’s People’s Choice was today awarded to Iranian-Australian artist Hoda Afshar for her work Agonistes, an installation of video and photographic portraits that explore the experiences of various whistleblowers.

Melbourne-based Afshar was awarded the $15,000 prize thanks to the votes of gallery visitors who’ve attended the exhibition at AGSA, which includes all 24 Ramsay Art Prize finalists. “We’re thrilled … our visitors connect so strongly with Afshar’s emotive work,” says Devenport.

Afshar photographed 3D-printed busts that resemble individuals who’ve spoken out about various issues, and who endured an inner struggle as a result. Afshar’s subjects have spoken out about matters of aged and disability care, immigration and youth detention, and military and intelligence matters. Three photographs from the series (a third of the artwork) will be acquired into AGSA’s collection.

“[It’s] a humbling and beautiful moment in my career,” says Afshar. “But, even more so, it’s a testament to the ability of the arts to engage people with the most urgent issues affecting our human society. I have always believed in the potential of art to bring to light what’s at stake, and I hope that winning this prize will contribute to highlighting that what is at stake today is our fragile democracy and our right to dissent.”

The Ramsay Art Prize 2021 exhibition runs until Sunday August 22 at the Art Gallery of South Australia. Admission is free.