Refugee and former child soldier's potrait wins prestigious art prize

Adut Deng captured on canvas by artist Nick Stathopoulos.
Adut Deng captured on canvas by artist Nick Stathopoulos.

Image: AGNSW, Mim Stirling

Refugee, lawyer, community leader and now prize-winning portrait subject. And definitely not a Skittle.

A hyperreal portrait of Adut Deng (who came to global attention after he starred in a powerful advertisement for Western Sydney University), has won the People’s Choice award at prestigious portrait competition, the Archibald, held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

A former child soldier in Sudan, Deng came to Australia as a refugee in 1998. After teaching himself to read, he studied to become a lawyer and is now a powerful advocate for refugees like himself.

Artist Nick Stathopoulos with Deng Adut and his People's Choice 2016 winning portrait.

Artist Nick Stathopoulos with Deng Adut and his People’s Choice 2016 winning portrait.

The incredibly realistic portrait painted by Nick Stathopoulos, took more than four months to complete, according to a statement. 

“You really need to have the subject there in front of you to capture that life-spark and commanding presence. Those eyes, those scars, tell a story that no ad could ever convey,” the artist said.

Deng and his story captured Stathopoulos’s imagination after he saw him the university ad. The clip, which traced his journey from Sudan to western Sydney, has been viewed on YouTube more than two million times.

“It must be some sort of magic, but Nick really captured what’s underneath my skin in his painting,” Deng said.

As part of his advocacy, Deng also delivered the 2016 Australia Day Address in January, sharing a message of dignity and openness.

“I was lucky. You are too,” Adut said in his speech. “Freedom from fear is about acceptance of our common identity. For we, Australians, in 2016 freedom from fear is almost taken for granted. We had better take care to keep it.”

Image: AGNSW, Mim Stirling

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