All four artists shortlisted for the 2019 Turner Prize have been named joint winners after they collectively argued that the judges should recognise the causes of “commonality, multiplicity and solidarity”.
The award ceremony in Margate on Tuesday 3rd December made history as Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani were named the collective winners after they jointly wrote to the judges. Helen Cammock read out a joint statement on stage. The artists, who had not met before being shortlisted, will get an equal share of the £40,000 prize.
The artists’ statement referred to the significance of the Turner prize, which is for a British artist working in Britain, seeking to “expand what it means to be British”, and said their work sought to take a stand against isolation and exclusion in a hostile environment with a “symbolic gesture of cohesion”. They explained that with their works taking on themes of migration, patriarchy, torture and civil rights, the subjects should not be pitted against each other by the judges.
Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain, said the artists had given judges a lot to think about, and both the nature of the work and the timing made it the correct decision. “To state the obvious these are very polarised times, in this country and across the world” he said.
The prize has never before been won collectively in its 35-year history, and Alex Farquharson said it may never be again. “This is the result of a confluence of different issues.
“I don’t think we’ve had a shortlist where all four artists work in a participatory manner and all with deep and pressing political concerns and that it comes at a time that it does.”
The four artists said they formed the plan at their first meeting at Turner Contemporary, forming a WhatsApp group called “the winners” as a joke.
Abu Hamdan said this year was a “specific” event because all the artists were on a similar social and political track. “This time it seemed to be that there was a cohesion around a political approach more than an aesthetic practice,” he said.
But former Guardian art critic Waldemar Januszczak wrote: “The use of the Turner as a propaganda vehicle for ultra-Londony evening-class lectures has become seriously off-putting. People don’t go to art to be turned into better citizens. They go to art to have their eyes pleasured and their hearts touched.”
Helen Cammock presented a 99-minute documentary film examining the overlooked role of women in the Northern Irish civil rights struggle, Oscar Murillo installed papier-mache worker figures on pews looking out at a sea view obscured by a black curtain, Abu Hamdan made audio works on Syria’s torture of prisoners, and Tai Shani created a surreal fantasy installation representing a post-patriarchal city built by women (seen at top of page).
The Turner prize show is in the Turner Contemporary Margate until 12th January 2020.