Queensland-born indigenous artist Daniel Boyd has won the Bulgari Art Award, one of the richest prizes in Australia.

Daniel Boyd has become the first indigenous man to win the Bulgari Art Award, one of Australia’s richest cultural accolades.

The Cairns-born, Sydney-based artist received the $80,000 award from Italian jewellery brand Bulgari for a work based on a 19th-century photograph from Vanuatu.

The luxury brand was guided by the Art Gallery of NSW which, under the terms of its partnership with Bulgari, acquires the painting for $50,000. Boyd receives that money, plus $30,000 for a residency in Italy.

“It’s very humbling,” the artist said after Tuesday’s announcement.

“I’m very grateful to be seen in the company of the previous winners,” Boyd added, referring to Michael Zavros and Jon Cattapan.

In the award-winning piece, Untitled 2014, Boyd bedecked his large, predominantly black painting with glistening droplets of transparent glue, which he refers to as “the cultural lens”.

“My use of dots references the idea of the cultural lens and the fact that we all have different points of view,” he said.

Boyd’s current series of history paintings investigates the hidden and mysterious histories that took place during the colonisation of the Pacific Islands.

Pentecost Island in Vanuatu was home to Boyd’s great-great-grandfather before he was brought to Queensland to work in the sugarcane fields – a practice known as “blackbirding”.

Many South Sea islanders were brought to Australia to support this industry between 1863 and 1904, and worked for little or no pay.

The 31-year-old artist, who left Cairns to study at the Canberra School of Art, also belongs to the Kudjla/Gangalu people from far north Queensland.