The Artist is a Thief (2004) delves into the world of Aboriginal rights, white privilege and Indigenous art in the Northern Territory. Margaret Thatcher Gandarrwuy, an internationally renowned Aboriginal artist whose works command high prices, lives and works in the remote Mission Hole community. Her reputation goes untarnished until one day, on reveiling a new painting, she finds it slashed and wtith the following message scribble on the remains of the canvas: , ‘The artist is a thief’. Jean-Loup Wild, a Melbourne financial consultant, is sent in by the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Commission (ATSIC), an Aboriginal government institution, to clear the case up, and whether Margaret is a geunuine artist or a fraud. At Mission Hole, Jean-Loup is caught between the art world, with its wealth, fashions, heroes and sophisticated private language, and the Aboriginal community with its poverty, social problems, kinship ties and unchanging traditional law. If Jean-Loup can find the artist he can begin to find the secret of what has been happening at Mission Hole. While operating in these dual worlds, Jean-Loup delves deeply into the layers of Australian society, discovering the prejudices at the bedrock.
The Artist is a Thief was the winner of the 2001 Vogel Award, an Australian literary award for unpublished manuscripts by writers under the age of 35. The prize money, currently AUS$20,000, is the richest and most prestigious award for an unpublished manuscript in Australia. The rules of the competition include that the winner’s work be published by Allen and Unwin. The award was initiated in 1979 by Niels Stevns and is a collaboration between The Australian newspaper, the publisher Allen & Unwin, and Stevns & Company Pty Ltd. Stevns, founder of the company which makes Vogel bread, named the award in honour of Swiss naturopath Alfred Vogel.