Artist of Black Portraiture Leads Turner Prize Shortlist
Barbara Walker, a British artist who draws huge portraits of black people on gallery walls, and Jesse Darling, a sculptor whose works evoke fragile bodies, are among the nominees for this year’s Turner Prize, the prestigious British prize for visual arts.
The four-person shortlist was announced on Thursday at a press conference at the Tate Britain art museum in London.
Walker, 58, is perhaps the most prominent artist nominated, with works in the collections of Tate, the British Museum and the Yale Center for British Art.
Shortlisted for Burden of Proof, which appeared last year at the Sharjah Biennale in the United Arab Emirates, it featured charcoal portraits of people affected by Britain’s ‘Windrush scandal’, which featured some long-term British residents, originally from the Caribbean, were misidentified as illegal immigrants and threatened with deportation. Walker drew these portraits directly onto the walls of the gallery, as well as copies of the paperwork required of residents by the British government.
In a 2020 interview with The New York Times, Walker, who only entered art school in her late 20s and gradually built a career in middle age, said her work could be about regaining visibility for people society ignores. “With visibility comes value, and with value comes humanity,” said Walker.
Darling, 41, was nominated for two recent solo exhibitions in British museums, including sculptures made from clay and metal mobility aids bent to appear as if they were crawling across the floor.
At Thursday’s press conference, Melanie Keen, the director of the Wellcome Collection and one of the Turner Prize judges, praised Darling’s “fragile and often precarious sculptures” that evoke fragile bodies.
Established in 1984, the Turner Prize is one of the most important awards in the art world. Many of the past winners, including Steve McQueen, Damien Hirst and Gilbert & George, have become world stars. Every year British art critics use the prize as an excuse to praise, lament or mock the state of contemporary art.
Last year, the award went to Veronica Ryan, a sculptor whose work was featured at the Whitney Biennial.
In addition to Walker and Darling, the other nominees are:
Ghislaine Leung, an installation artist nominated for “Fountains” at the Simian exhibition space in Copenhagen, Denmark. That show featured water running through the ceiling of the building and a baby monitor that allowed visitors to watch the gallery’s staff at work. Helen Nisbet, the artistic director of the Art Night festival and one of this year’s judges, said at Thursday’s press conference that Leung, 42, impressed the jury “with her rethinking of the gallery space” and work filled with ” warmth, humanity and humour.”
Rory Pilgrim, a multimedia artist and musician, nominated for ‘Rafts’, a film shown at London’s Serpentine Gallery in which residents of the city made art and music and read poems about the coronavirus pandemic and climate change. The film received mixed reviews in Britain. Ben Luke, writing in The Evening Standard, said it was “often heartbreakingly beautiful”, while Eddy Frankel, writing in Time Out, called it “cold and stilted”.
The winner of this year’s prize will be announced on December 5 at a ceremony at Towner Eastbourne, a museum in southern England. The winner receives £25,000, approximately $31,000. An exhibition of the nominees’ work will be held in the same museum from September 28 to April 14.