“That Boochani’s portrait will hang in the same space occupied by prime ministers, Indigenous leaders, scientists, academics and our nation’s leading artists, writers and cultural icons is a measure of the significant place he’s cemented in our recent history, not to mention a source of some obvious irony, given that he’s achieved this despite never even setting foot on the Australian mainland.”

McDonald said he was “thrilled and humbled” and paid tribute to Boochani for his compassion as he accepted the prize at the Art Gallery of NSW on Wednesday morning

“Well this doesn’t happen everyday,” the artist said.

Art Gallery of NSW director Michael Brand said the powerful hyper-realistic portrait had challenged viewers from the start.

First awarded in 1988, the Archibald Prize People’s Choice is voted for by members of the public and carries a $3500 cash prize for the artist. More than 13,000 votes were cast in this year’s prize.

Earlier this year, Vincent Namatjira became the first Indigenous artist to win the Archibald Prize with a portrait of himself and Adam Goodes titled Stand Strong for Who You Are.

Boochani arrived as an aslyum seeker on Christmas Island in 2013, and wrote via secret text messages his book No Friend But The Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison which last year won the the $100,000 Victorian Prize for Literature, as well as claiming $25,000 for first place in the category of non-fiction.

More to come

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