At this time when pieces of good news are very much welcomed, the Filipino-Australian community recently had a good reason to celebrate! Marikit Santiago, a 35 year old Fil-Aussie won the Sulman Prize 2020. The $40,000 Sulman Prize is awarded for the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project by an Australian artist.

Asked how she found out about her win, Marikit said:

"I received a call from the director of the Art Gallery of NSW, Michael Brand, on the morning of the winners announcement date. He called to let me know I had won and of course I was absolutely thrilled. I was in between dropping off my eldest at school, my youngest with her Lolo before I took my boy to his swimming class.

"After that call, I had to reschedule the whole day and get to the Gallery for the media announcement. It is incredibly special to have won the Sulman with a very personal piece that features my three children and who also collaborated with me to make it. I share the win with them and because of them."

The painting features Marikit's three children, Maella (aged 5), Santiago (aged 3) and Sarita (aged 1), who made the pen and paint markings in the award winning piece, The divine.  

Each year the trustees of the Art Gallery of NSW invite a guest artist to judge; in 2020 artist Khadim Ali* selected 18 finalists for the Sulman Prize.  He commented:

" Marikit is known for touching upon controversial social, religious and political issues relating to her cultural and social background. Her works reflect the multiple layers of her ethnic and social identity and demonstrates both impressions of acceptance and rejection.

"She has been able to visualise and express the theological and historical myths about the creation and expulsion of human with the power of contemporary mediums. She has chosen her three children not only as the subject matter but also as collaborators of this painting. The elements of the work are fused together in a powerful visual language.
(Source - Art Almanac

The Australian Filipina is glad to share the Q&A that follows to give an insight into Marikit's persona.

From what age did you realise you have the passion for painting?  anyone in the family wh are also in the field of painting?  when and what was your first submission of an artwork?

I knew from a young age that I enjoyed and had a talent for drawing and painting. My father is an architect and always had a flair for creative visual arts. I also have an aunty who is a graphic designer and a cousin who is in animation. My first submission was for a drawing competition in primary school. I was selected as a finalist for my age group (I think I was in Year 2).

What are your paintings generally about?

I make paintings that investigate and articulate the tensions that lie within my multiple cultural and social identities as an Australian, a second-generation Filipino migrant, as a woman, as a mother and an artist.

I grew up resenting my Filipina identity after some negative experiences as a child being teased for having a funny name and brown skin. I am still not entirely proud of my Filipina identity but I am grateful for it and there is still much for me to learn about it for myself and our children. This is the foundation of my art-making practice.

What achievements do you hold fondly in your heart?

I am quite proud of having achieved a Master in Fine Art, with top marks, because I had my first two children while studying, and our third was born not too long after I graduated.

And of course, it was exceptionally special to have won the Sulman Prize – the first major prize in my career – with a painting of my three children, who also contributed to the painting and were at the Gallery for the announcements.

On  the flip side, what challenges have you faced and overcome?

Being an artist comes with many challenges! I have written perhaps hundreds of applications for grants, prizes, exhibitions and other opportunities, and therefore have received hundreds of rejection letters.

But at the moment, my biggest challenge is finding the time to work in the studio while caring for our three children and being able to support them the way that I want to.

If you can change things you have done in the past, what would they be?

 If anything, I wish I spent more time looking at art on our previous trips to the Philippines!

What else do you wish to achieve in life?

I just want to be able to provide for my family without compromising the time I spend with them and the kind of mother I want to be for them.

What advice can you give, especially to the young people, who might be hesitating to pursue their passion?

I wish someone had told me when I was young that being an artist is possible and not just a childhood fantasy. It takes courage, risk and a lot of persistence. But it is entirely possible.

How do you define "success"

I define success simply by the happiness of my family.


Marikit Santiago is a Filipina-Australian artist who was born in Melbourne in 1985 and later moved to Sydney. The English words for her unique Filipino name "Marikit" for which she was teased as a child, include gorgeous, exquisite, pretty, lovely, pleasing to the eye, picturesque, and beautiful.

Her  Nanay [mother] Myrna is from Cavite and her Tatay [father] Noy grew up in Manila. They migrated to Australia in the 80's before Marikit was born. They have two daughters with Marikit being the older sister of Jay.

As a child, Marikit wanted to be a doctor – a childhood aspiration that she followed until she was accepted into Medical Science at UNSW. During her studies, it became clear that she did not want to follow the medical path and once she finished the degree, she enrolled at the College of Fine Arts. She later completed Bachelor of Fine Arts for which she received the Dean's Award for Academic Excellence. She followed this with a Master of Fine Arts, this time winning an Australian Postgraduate Award.

She married Shawn Pearl in 2012.  Their children were born in 2014, 2016 and 2018. She didn't take his surname but the children carry the name. 

Her credentials in the art world include: five solo exhibitions undertaken between 2015 and 2018, with one scheduled in 2019 being postponed to 2021; nineteen group exhibitions held during 2010-2019;  twenty six Awards, the first of which was in 2009 as People's Choice Award in Hornsby and being a finalist for the Archibald Prize in 2016.   In 2017, she had the Parramatta Studios Tenancy,  [For details of her art CV, check out:]

She currently works from her home garage studio in Parramatta.

The Australian Filipina congratulates Marikit on garnering the prestigious Sulman Prize and wishes her continued success.

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* Khadim Ali moved to Australia in 2009, having built a reputation as a prolific painter and a master of classical miniatures, murals and calligraphy in Pakistan. In Australia his works continue to reflect Persian symbolism: his work teems with labyrinthine pattern, expressively posed beasts and cadenced lines of calligraphic verse.

Images:  Garry Trinh


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