TAMARA ARMSTRONG: Aspiring Archibald Prize Finalist

TAMARA ARMSTRONG: Aspiring Archibald Prize Finalist

On our ‘Before I die…’ wall last year, Tamara Armstrong wrote simply, ‘Be an Archibald Prize finalist.

Members of the TEDxSouthBank community will know Tamara as a passionate TEDx advocate, a former set designer, a high school art teacher, and the subject of our 2013 Positive Disruption short film.

Like many of the participants who wrote on the wall, Tamara had secretly dreamed of her goal for years but hadn’t quite worked out how she would realise her vision.

That changed when she attended TEDxSouthBank in 2014.

Now, Tamara is working on her second submission to the Archibald Prize. She submitted her first, a portrait of community and youth ambassador Yassmin Abdiel-Magied, in 2016.

This year, Tamara painted Australian media personality Faustina ‘Fuzzy’ Agolley.


‘This journey all started when I attended TEDxSouthBank in 2014, where I met Yassmin,’ Tamara says.

‘Yassmin’s talk (What does my head scarf mean to you?), her presence and her passion were so inspiring. She was so vibrant. I remember thinking the world needed to know about her ideas, and the work she’s doing to challenge unconscious bias.

‘I sat there listening and really believed she was going to change the world.’

In short, the perfect subject for an Archibald Prize portrait.

‘I saw a photograph of Yassmin one day not long after her talk. She was so bold and colourful.

‘She reminded me of my art and the colours I am drawn to. I thought… “I’ve got to ask her if I can paint her portrait!”

‘I felt it would be my way of spreading her light, celebrating her and what she represents.’


‘Then, when I wrote on the ‘Before I Die’ wall at TEDxSouthBank last year, I was putting my intention out there to seriously enter the Archibald Prize.

‘I remember thinking, ‘Gee it’d be nice to get to a point where I felt confident enough in my artwork to enter.’


Tamara’s portrait of Yassmin, Inshallah, didn’t get shortlisted for the Archibald Prize, but it was accepted in the Portia Geach Memorial Award – Australia’s most prestigious art prize for female portrait artists.

Being a finalist meant the work was displayed for six weeks in the exhibition at the S.H. Irvine Gallery, the historic museum building at Observatory Hill in The Rocks, Sydney.

‘That was an amazing career highlight,’ Tamara says.

‘The process helped me realise how serious I am about my art and what I want to communicate to the world.

‘The art world had said “yes” to me.’


Inspired by her journey with Inshallah, Tamara embraced powerful portraiture as a way to pay homage to women who inspire her.

I want only to paint women of substance; women who are making the most of this life and staying true to who they are  and always remaining humble in the face of adversity and challenge.’

‘Women with humility, courage, deep self-awareness and kind hearts – these are the women that make me want to rise up and be more.

‘Attending TEDx was a real turning point in my life. From meeting Yassmin, seeing talks like Michelle LawsA Bald Womans Guide to Survival”, and all the other connections Ive made

‘My journey as an artist and as a woman has been enriched.’


Tamara’s portrait of Faustina, The Power of Vulnerability and Surrender, didn’t get selected as an Archibald Prize finalist for 2017. It was selected for what many refer to as the ‘Alternate Archibald’ – the ‘Salon Des Refuses’.

News like this, she says, is all part of the process.

‘It’s par for the course. I’m very proud of what I have achieved.’

‘To me this is the next best thing to being an Archibald finalist. It’s another incredible career highlight in what is my second year having a crack at the Archie!’

About The Author


TEDxBrisbane is more than a set of events—it is a local and global community that comprises individuals from diverse walks of life, with a diverse range of skills, knowledge and experiences, but with a shared commitment to challenge preconceived ideas, challenge the status quo, sharing ideas worth spreading and making a positive difference in the world.

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