Julian Assange portrait named as 2024 Archibald Finalist

On the 30th May 2024, The Australian Assange Campaign issued this press release

Shaun Gladwell, an Australian contemporary artist who works in the fields of painting, drawing, photography, moving image, performance, and extended reality, has been named as a Finalist in the Archibald Prize for his portrait of Julian Assange, titled ‘A spangled symbolist portrait of Julian Assange floating in reflection’.

Mr Gladwell describes this portrait as a protest against the political persecution, psychological torture and illegal incarceration of Julian Assange, who has deeply inspired Mr Gladwell both personally and professionally.

Through overt and covert symbolic imagery, I aim to present the inhumane conditions in which my friend has lived for 12 years, while celebrating his achievements as an investigative journalist, publisher and spokesperson for free speech,” Mr Gladwell said.

Julian Assange is a Walkley Award winning journalist and publisher, who is being held in Belmarsh Prison while the United States pursues him over the material he published in 2010 on Wikileaks, which was provided by US army whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Those publications revealed war crimes, torture, assassinations, the list of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and the US rules for air strikes.

Julian changed my world view 14 years ago. After returning from Afghanistan as Australia’s official war artist, I was deeply shocked by WikiLeaks’ 2010 video Collateral Murder,” adds Gladwell, who was an Archibald finalist in 2015 and unusually, is also a subject in this years’ Archibald exhibition in a portrait by David Griggs.

The Archibald requires at least one ‘live sitting’ with the subject – a very challenging prospect when the portrait subject is being held in a maximum-security prison in the United Kingdom. Mr Gladwell did visit Julian Assange in person in Belmarsh prison, and was further obstructed by the highly restrictive rules of prison entry, which prohibited him from bringing in any pencil, paper or any items for which he could sketch Julian.

On his visit to Belmarsh prison, Mr Gladwell says: “HMP Belmarsh didn’t allow me to bring anything except £25 for the canteen. When I was refused a pencil and paper, Julian suggested I sketch him with chocolate on a spare banknote, which I did.

“Despite the oppressive surroundings, it was wonderful to see Julian smile. He champions freedom, truth and peace. Let us now champion the freedom of this incredible human being. Julian famously states: ‘if wars can be started by lies, peace can be started by truth’. It is a deeply profound statement that he practices at all costs,” says Gladwell.

Gabriel Shipton, Julian’s brother, says of Shaun’s portrait of Julian: “It means a lot to us that Shaun has been able to draw attention to Julian’s ongoing plight through art, which we are hoping will connect strongly with people’s sense of humanity, equity and hope.

It is easy for us all to revert back into our own normal lives as time passes on, but my brother still remains imprisoned in very harsh conditions with rapidly deteriorating physical and mental health, after thirteen years. This has gone on long enough. Anthony Albanese needs to act now and with urgency to stop this extradition from occurring, by reaching a diplomatic solution whereby Julian can return home to Australia as soon as possible.”

Shaun Gladwell uses disciplines of human movement to investigate function and meaning within urban, natural, and extended reality environments. His oeuvre is considered an important contribution to the cataloguing and celebration of movement-based sub-cultures that have emerged within his generation. The artist has also been recognized for pioneering work with immersive, extended reality technologies. Gladwell contextualizes ‘the new’ by identifying parallels and patterns throughout the history of art, cultural production, and philosophy.

He represented Australia at the Venice Biennale (2009), and later that year was commissioned as Australia’s Official War Artist to work in Afghanistan alongside the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) — a multinational military mission founded in 2001. His works are held in important museum collections including, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Museum of Fine Art, Houston; Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Orange County Museum of Art, California; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.

Archibald Prize 2024 finalist, Shaun Gladwell ‘A spangled symbolist portrait of Julian Assange floating in reflection’, oil and aluminium flakes on canvas, 151.5 x 112 cm © the artist, image © Art Gallery of New South Wales
HMP Belmarsh didn’t allow me to bring anything except £25 for the canteen. When I was refused a pencil and paper, Julian suggested I sketch him with chocolate on a spare banknote, which I did
Shaun at work on the portrait

Editor’s Note: Julian is an untried prisoner (and hence unconvicted) under the Mandella Rules (The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners). It is a national disgrace and diplomatic affront that an Australian Walkley awarded journalist and publisher should not be allowed a proper sitting for this event. Unconvicted prisoners are presumed to be innocent and shall be treated as such.