Lubaina Himid, 63 years old and born in Zanzibar, has become the oldest artist and the first woman of colour to win the Turner Prize, the most important contemporary art award in the United Kingdom. Finding her voice as an artist in England, Himid’s work alludes in many pieces to the industry of slavery and its legacy. She also explores the institutional invisibility of the black community, and its disparaged contributions, which she highlights in her work on the pages of The Guardian newspaper, where news about successful athletes, police violence against African-Americans in the United States and gang war in London are juxtaposed.
Another constant theme in her work is the questioning of the historical role of the portrait. In one of her most celebrated pieces, A Fashionable Marriage, Himid, inspired by the paintings of William Hogarth in the 17th century, recreates here a satirical piece in which Margaret Thatcher adopts the pose of a dissolute countess and flirts with Ronald Reagan, in front of the look of a black servant. Painting, drawing, collage and cut-outs are the tools that this long-haul artist uses.
The panel of finalists for this edition included two other women artists, Rosalind Nashashib (a Londoner with a Palestinian father and an Irish mother), and the German Andrea Büttner, as well as the Jamaican-born British artist Hurvin Anderson. Alex Farquharson, the chair of the Turner prize judging panel, has expressed that, with that choice, the Turner champions the diversity of the British art scene precisely in times of growing hostility towards immigrants.
This year’s shortlist marked a return to more traditional mediums than those often displayed by the often controversial Turner Prize, suggesting that this year’s artists no longer feel that the use of unusual and provocative materials and methods is necessarily the most innovative today.
The works of the four candidates will remain on display until January 7, 2018, in the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull.
Follow Cecilia Winter on Twitter