Five varied creators responsible for a colourful and broad-ranging portfolio of work have been nominated for the 2021 Sobey Art Award – and two of them are over 40 years old.
The Sobey Art Award, one of the most generous visual-art prizes in the world, picks a $100,000 winner from a shortlist of emerging artists drawn from five Canadian regions. This year, for the first time, there was no specification that nominees be aged 40 or under in the award year – two of the five shortlisted artists, who each receive $25,000, are 41.
From Quebec, Lorna Bauer, who just turned 41, is a Montreal artist who uses photography and sculpture – including hand-blown glass – in site-specific projects that look at the relationship between humans and their environments.
Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, representing the Prairies and the North and turning 42 in October, is a Kalaaleq (Greenlandic Inuk) writer and performance artist based in Iqaluit. She specializes in a Greenlandic storytelling mask dance that addresses themes of fear, humour and sexuality, and also directed Kiviuq Returns, a multimedia stage show based on an Inuit epic at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto in 2019.
Rémi Belliveau, representing the Atlantic region, is a multidisciplinary Acadian artist and curator from New Brunswick. His work includes investigations of the popular tourist image of Evangeline, the Acadian heroine memorialized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s eponymous poem.
Rajni Perera, representing Ontario, is a Toronto artist who was born in Sri Lanka and addresses both her immigrant background and environmental concerns in her art. Using mixed-media sculptures and works on paper in saturated colours, she creates images that evoke hybridity while questioning colonization and resource extraction.
From the West Coast and Yukon, Gabi Dao is a Vancouver artist who uses sculpture, installation, sound and moving image to present works that undercut homogenous or controlling esthetic systems by questioning memory, truth, time and materiality.
Established in 2002, the Sobey Art Award, which aims to promote contemporary art in Canada and offer a national and global spotlight to emerging artists, dropped its previous age requirement this year to recognize that regional artists faced more barriers to advancing their careers – such as a lack of exhibition opportunities – and so might still be considered emerging in their 40s and 50s. At 58, Inuvialuk artist Maureen Gruben was the oldest person on the 20-artist longlist announced last month. Nominations for the award more than doubled after the criteria were broadened.
The winner will be announced next fall at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, which will feature the five finalists in an exhibition opening Oct. 8.
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