x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 14 December 2017

Turner Prize: Lubaina Himid wins Britain's top art award

Born in Zanzibar, Tanzania and now based in Preston, Lancashire, Himid is the first woman of colour and the oldest artist to win the annual Turner Prize 

Lubaina Himid. Courtesy of the artist and Hollybrush Gardens. Photo by Edmund Blok for Modern Art Oxford
Lubaina Himid. Courtesy of the artist and Hollybrush Gardens. Photo by Edmund Blok for Modern Art Oxford

Lubaina Himid has won the 2017 Turner Prize, Britain’s most high-profile and often most controversial art award.

The news was broadcast live on BBC from an award ceremony held at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull, Yorkshire.

The artist, born in in Zanzibar, Tanzania but now based in Preston, Lancashire, where she is a professor of contemporary art at the University of Central Lancashire, was presented with the prize by the English musician, DJ and street artist Goldie.

Named after the 19th century landscape painter JMW Turner, the prize is awarded to a British artist or to an artist working in Britain who is considered to have mounted the best exhibition during the previous year.

The choice of Himid, however, feels more like belated recognition for an artist whose career is commonly agreed to have been largely undervalued and overlooked.

Speaking at the announcement of the prize, Himid – the first woman of colour and the oldest artist to win the award – insisted that while her work had not gone unnoticed by the arts community, it had been largely ignored by the media and suggested that this was because it “was too complicated to talk about”.

Himid was nominated for her recent solo exhibitions Lubaina Himid: Invisible Strategies at Modern Art Oxford and Navigation Charts at Spike Island in Bristol, as well as her participation in group exhibition The Place is Here at Nottingham Contemporary.

The artist’s work addresses complex and often uncomfortable questions of race, imperialism, colonialism and identity.

Held at the start of the year, Himid’s show at Modern Art Oxford was the first survey of her career and included works such as Swallow Hard: The Lancaster Dinner Service (2007), which uses traditional porcelain painted with scenes inspired by the satirical English cartoonist, James Gillray, to comment on Britain’s role in the history of slavery.

The annual £40,000 prize is shared between the finalists with £25,000 going to the winner and £5,000 each for the other shortlisted artists whose work has been on display since September in the Turner Prize Exhibition, which is currently on display in Hull as part of its UK City of Culture celebrations.

The prize leaves Tate Britain every other year, when it is presented at a venue outside London.

Like Himid, the other shortlisted artists were notable not just for their cosmopolitanism, diversity and the international scope of their work but also for their maturity.

Helen Marten was only 30 when she accepted last year’s prize and until this year the upper age limit for entrants had been set at 50 but thanks to a decision to ignore the ruling, which had been in place since 1991, the latest crop of artists included the oldest entrants in the prize’s 33-year history.

Both Himid, 63, and her fellow finalist and favourite to win this year’s prize, the 52-year-old Hurvin Anderson, would have been ineligible for the award in previous years.

Speaking in May to the London-based newspaper, The Guardian, Emily Pethick, the director of The Showroom and one of this year’s judges, insisted that the decision to admit older artists was not a conscious move.

“We really responded to artists we felt had really deepened their practices and were at really exciting moments; we weren’t really looking at age,” she explained.

“It is just clear when an artist is really in their moment and that is what we really wanted to reflect.”

Based in London but born in Birmingham, UK, to Jamaican parents, Hurvin Anderson’s vibrant paintings reference his Caribbean heritage, the history of art and also include representations of black icons, such as Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. in works such as Is it OK to be black? (2016).

Anderson was shortlisted thanks to his recent solo exhibitions Hurvin Anderson: Dub Versions at Nottingham’s New Art Exchange in the UK and Hurvin Anderson: Backdrop at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Canada.

The other artists on this year’s shortlist included Andrea Büttner, 45, and Rosalind Nashashibi, 43.

Born in Stuttgart, Germany, Büttner is now based in London and Berlin and was nominated for her solo exhibitions Andrea Büttner: Gesamtzusammenhang at Kunsthalle Sankt Gallen in Switzerland and Andrea Büttner at David Kordansky in Los Angeles.

Born in Croydon, South London, Nashashibi was nominated for her solo exhibition On This Island at The University Art Galleries at UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts in California, and her participation in Documenta 14.

An artist who often works with film and photography, Nashashibi’s shortlisted works included a film about artists in Guatemala and Electrical Gaza, which was originally commissioned by the Imperial War Museum in London.

Filmed during the artist’s trip to region in 2014, directly before Israel’s military operation against Hamas-ruled Gaza, the film portrays footage of everyday life, which cuts intermittently between live action animation.

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Emily Pethick was joined on the judging panel by Dan Fox, writer and co-editor of Frieze; the art Martin Herbert and the Walker Art Center’s Bentson scholar of moving image and associate curator at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, Mason Leaver-Yap. The jury was chaired by Alex Farquharson, the director of Tate Britain.

Farquharson described Himid’s recent exhibitions amd the work on display at the Ferens Gallery as “a great summation of her practice over the last few decades and also revealed how vital her work is at the present moment.”

Established in 1984 to “promote public debate around new developments in contemporary British art”, the Turner Prize has frequently aroused controversy, not least in its choice of shortlisted artists.

In 1993, Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond of the K Foundation attracted widespread media coverage when they launched the Anti-Turner Prize, an award of £40,000 that was given to the "worst artist in Britain", voted for from that year’s Turner Prize's shortlist.

Rachel Whiteread won both awards with her monumental sculpture, House, a concrete cast of the interior of a demolished house that momentarily stood on the site of the original until it too was demolished.

Damien Hirst won the prize with his controversial Mother and Child (Divided) in 1995, which consists of four glass-walled tanks, containing the two halves of a cow and calf, each bisected and preserved in formaldehyde solution.

In 1998, an illustrator protested at Chris Offili’s use of elephant dung in his work by dumping dung on the steps of the Tate Britain while in 2001 the artist Jacqueline Crofton hit the headlines when she threw eggs at the walls of the room containing an installation by Martin Creed that consisted of an empty room in which the lighting periodically came on and went off.