The Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award celebrates the diversity and strength of Australian textile art. Building on Wangaratta's long and prominent history of textile manufacturing, and craft making, the award furthers this unique tradition and social history by elevating and promoting the development of contemporary textile practice in Australia.


Newcastle based artist Gillian Bencke was the recipient of the Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award 2021 for her work Cope, 2021. Bencke created Cope from three black dresses that were unpicked and reworked into the shape of a cope, a liturgical garment traditionally highly embroidered with the stories of Christ. In this piece Bencke has stitched her own story, with enduring symbols of power, money, drugs and weapons, along with the detritus of modern life: the comforts and progress with the inevitable waste. The embroidered beast at the centre is surrounded by stitched line drawings of belongings no longer in use; rubbish collecting at the edges.

Award judge, Hannah Presley, Curator of Indigenous Art, National Gallery of Victoria, commented on the winning work:

"This year’s entries to the Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award were thoughtful and considered, a true reflection of the individual expression and creative exploration that highlights why textiles are such a rich and diverse medium.

The winning work Cope, 2021 by Gillian Bencke stood out to me as a strong example of a work that was both technically skilled and addressed a clear social commentary. The work embraces the focus of the award, by responding to the artist’s experiences of the past year, with clear references to the environmental and social challenges that we collectively face. The juxtaposition of delicate sewing and beading details, illustrating objects of refuse, challenge our ideas of comfort and convenience by connecting it directly to waste. Cope, 2021 is a visually interesting and clever analysis of our individual responsibilities to the environment and ourselves. I am sure the work will be a welcome inclusion to the Wangaratta Art Gallery’s significant collection."

A beautiful catalogue featuring the year's finalist works is available in hardcopy and online. 

Read the catalogue.

For further information on the 2021 exhibition, visit the exhibition page.

Gillian Bencke, Cope, 2021, wool, silk, cotton, sequins, beads, brass. 130 x 253 x 0.1 cm