Dana Claxton, an internationally celebrated Lakota artist, has been awarded this year’s $100,000 Audain Prize, one of the highest honours within the Canadian visual arts industry, for her body of work.
Ms. Claxton was born in Yorkton, Sask., grew up in Moose Jaw and now lives in Vancouver. She works in film, video, photography, and performance art. Her work, which has made it to prestigious international venues such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is provocative and often autobiographical. It seeks to reclaim narratives around Indigenous culture.
Ms. Claxton is also professor and head of the department of art history, visual art and theory with the University of British Columbia.
In a video shown Monday at a luncheon in Vancouver, where the B.C.-based prize was announced, Ms. Claxton said her mother taught her how to see people when she was young – which she always thinks about when she makes images.
“It comes down to not dehumanizing people, and if we think of the complexities of Canadian history, and colonization and criminalizing Indigenous culture, there was an element of that dehumanized in my own family, so I was curious about those realities,” she said in the video.
“And so I think that making images that are celebratory, but also within a realm of the sociopolitical and the spiritual, to lift people up, both the viewer and the sitter, the subject of the image.”
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Claxton said her main motivation of making arts comes from social justice.
“Hopefully that when you are viewed as a human being that people will want to treat you with justice. … If you’re viewing Indigenous people as not being equal, or human even, and if we think of early social science and those kinds of things, it’s really about humanizing people, but also in relationship to social justice.”
The Audain Prize for Visual Arts, established in 2004, recognizes the careers of British Columbia’s most distinguished artists. It is one of the most lucrative arts prizes in Canada, in the same $100,000 company as the annual Scotiabank Giller Prize for fiction, the Sobey Art Award presented to an emerging visual artist, and the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award judged by the Toronto Film Critics Association.
Reid Shier, director of the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver, and a member of the prize’s jury, said the jury spoke of the ways in which Ms. Claxton’s art practice is both expansive and intensively, creatively focused.
“Her works in film, video, photography and performance offer a committed and sustained exploration of the historic challenges for Indigenous people in ways that are critical, imaginative and propositional. She has also forged a path as a generous mentor and teacher, and across her career, has consistently helped make space for other artists and practitioners,” Mr. Shier wrote in an e-mail.
He noted the jury was unanimous in commending Ms. Claxton for this year’s award.
When it comes to teaching and education in arts, Ms. Claxton said she hopes her department can help students learn how to think critically about arts. She also wants to contribute to decolonizing the classroom, she added.
Michael Audain, the philanthropist and art collector who funds the prize through his foundation, said the purpose of the award is to try to highlight some of the most illustrious artists in British Columbia.