Judy Watson

Honorary award citation


Ms Judy Watson is a pre-eminent visual artist who has enhanced international appreciation of Australian art, and raised awareness of how Indigenous people have experienced colonial and post-colonial history. A descendant of the Waanyi people of north-west Queensland, Ms Watson was born and raised in regional Queensland and began gaining national renown in the 1980s.

Today the artist, who works in a range of media including print, painting, drawing, sculpture, video and sound, has a record of being chosen to represent Australia on some of the most prestigious international art stages. She has, for instance, co-represented Australia at the Venice Biennale, and had her work integrated into the structure of the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.

Her work has been commissioned, acquired and exhibited by some of the world’s most significant art museums and cultural institutions. It is in the permanent collections of – for instance - the Tate Modern in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, and the British Museum. 

She has had a multitude of residencies, including at the University of Hawaii in the United States, the Banff Centre in Canada, Bharat Bhavan in India, and Lillehammer Art Museum in Norway.

She also had a University of Queensland residency, which is unique in the annals of UQ’s scientific research. Based at Heron Island when the Great Barrier Reef research station was reopening after a devastating fire, Ms Watson worked with scientists to give an artist’s view of how climate change and plastic pollution are effecting the tropical marine environment. 

Results of the residency are now among the UQ Art Museum’s collection of 40 of Ms Watson’s works. 
As a collaboration, the Heron Island project was part of a continuum that has involved UQ researchers, teachers and curators in fields spanning art history, history, anthropology, and marine science. Besides featuring in numerous UQ Art Museum exhibitions, Ms Watson co-curated and produced work for a 2014 exhibition at the UQ Anthropology Museum.

As Ms Watson’s global reputation has risen, she has remained grounded in the Australian community and her Waanyi heritage. 

Her public art has enhanced a Brisbane CityCat ferry, Sydney International Airport, Reconciliation Place in Canberra, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art forecourt, the Brisbane Magistrates Court - and many other busy spaces. 

In 2020 another major public work, called bara, will be installed to overlook Sydney Harbour in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney. Standing six metres high, it will depict two shell fish hooks, and will honour Australia’s First Peoples.

Ms Watson has a slew of awards and distinctions, including a Moet & Chandon Fellowship, an Australia Council for the Arts Visual Arts Award, the Clemenger Contemporary Art Award, and a Telstra National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award.

Chancellor, I present to you Ms Judith Watson, Diploma of Creative Arts of University of Southern Queensland, Bachelor of Fine Arts of the University of Tasmania and Graduate Diploma in Visual Arts of Monash University, for the award of Doctor of Art History honoris causa, bestowed by the Senate of The University of Queensland.


Doctor of Art History honoris causa