Lubaina Himid, a Pioneer in the UK Black Arts Movement, Wins 2017 Turner Prize

 

AFTER MUCH ANTICIPATION, the winner of Britain’s most prestigious art prize has been announced. Lubaina Himid, 63, was awarded the 2017 Turner Prize on Tuesday. Her selection is groundbreaking. She is the first black woman to get the prize and she is also the oldest artist to earn the honor, after a rule change made artists over 50 eligible for the first time this year.

Her practice explores black representation and identity, challenges institutional politics, and brings visibility to the powerless. When she accepted the prize at a ceremony held in the city of Hull, Himid, thanked the public and the scholars and curators who had recognized her work over the years.

“To the people who’ve stopped me in the streets of Preston and Hull to wish me luck. Thank you. It worked. To the art and cultural historians who cared enough to write essays about my work for decades. Thank you. You gave me sustenance in the wilderness years,” she said.

Humid also acknowledged that winning the Turner Prize is historic, saying she won it “for all the black women who never did win it even though they had been shortlisted …it feels good for that reason.”

“For all the black women who never did win it even though they had been shortlisted …it feels good for that reason.” — Lubaina Himid

Himid is the first non-white woman to win the prize established more than three decades ago. Two black men have won in previous years—Chris Ofili (1998) and Steve McQueen (1999).

 


Lubaina Himid with DJ Goldie, the artist and musician who announced she won the 2017 Turner Prize, and Maria Jane Balshaw, director of the Tate, at Hull Minster, in Hull, England, Dec. 5, 2017. | Danny Lawson/PA via AP

 

BORN IN ZANZIBAR, Tanzania, and raised in Britain, Himid lives and works in Preston. The artist and activist is also a curator and professor of contemporary art at the University of Central Lancashire.

She first came to prominence during the 1980s Black Arts Movement in the UK. Here is how Himid’s work was described in consideration for the prize:

    Himid makes paintings, prints, drawings and installations which celebrate Black creativity and the people of the African diaspora while challenging institutional invisibility. She references the slave industry and its legacies, and addresses the hidden and neglected cultural contribution made by real but forgotten people. In Naming the Money 2014, 100 cut-out life size figures depict Black servants and labourers who Himid individualises, giving each of them a name and story to work against the sense of the powerless mass. She often takes her paintings off the gallery wall so that her images become objects that surround the viewer. Whether working on Guardian newspapers or directly onto porcelain tableware, Himid continually subjects painting to the material of everyday life in order to explore Black identity.

After practicing for more than four decades the arc of her career is finally being recognized. 2017 has been a watershed. She got her first survey treatment this year with a pair of solo exhibitions, “Navigation Charts” at Spike Island in Bristol (Jan. 20-March 26, 2017) and “Invisible Strategies” at Modern Art Oxford (Jan. 21-April 30).

There was also “The Place Is Here” at Nottingham Contemporary (Feb. 4-April 30, 2017), a group exhibition titled after one of Himid’s works. A national tour of her work is also underway. “Warp & Weft” was presented at Firstsite Gallery in Colchester, Essex, over the summer, and is traveling to the Harris Museum & Art Gallery in Preston, next spring 2018.

 


Installation view of LUBAINA HIMID, “Invisible Strategies.” | Photo Ben Westoby © Modern Art Oxford

 

THE EXPOSURE landed her on the Turner Prize shortlist in May, along with Hurvin Anderson, Andrea Büttner, and Rosalind Nashashibi. Anderson, 52, also benefitted from the age restriction being lifted. The group was the most diverse in the history of the prize.

Established in 1984 by the Tate Museum to encourage wider interest in contemporary art, the Turner Prize is awarded annually to “an artist born, living or working in Britain, for an outstanding exhibition or public presentation of their work anywhere in the world in the previous year.” The honor includes a £25,000 cash prize (about $34,000). Since September, an exhibition featuring the shortlisted artists has been on view at Ferens Art Gallery in Hull. It continues through Jan. 7, 2018.

After winning the Turner Prize, Himid told the BBC that curators and art historians had followed her work throughout her career, but the media had largely ignored it. Reflecting on how British society has evolved since the Black Art Movement, she told The Guardian a couple of months ago, that black people have achieved a level of mainstream visibility.

“What has changed radically is that in terms of the media, television, advertisements, films, newspapers and magazines, black people, in the 80s, were totally invisible. The only way you could see yourself was by looking in the mirror. So making ourselves visible was the purpose of our work.”

“What has changed radically is that in terms of the media, television, advertisements, films, newspapers and magazines, black people, in the 80s, were totally invisible. The only way you could see yourself was by looking in the mirror. So making ourselves visible was the purpose of our work.”
— Lubaina Himid


Installation view of LUBAINA HIMID, “Naming the Money” (2004), in “Navigation Charts,” Spike Island, Bristol, 2017. | Courtesy the artist, Hollybush Gardens, and National Museum, Liverpool. Photo by Stuart Whipps

 

HER OWN RECEPTION makes her point. Over the past year, the press has turned its attention to Himid. Her work graced the cover of Frieze magazine in January/February 2017 illustrating a feature in which Himid wrote about the people, art and events that have shaped her career.

In November, Apollo, the London-based international art magazine, named Himid Artist of the Year. “The past year has been extraordinary but slightly unreal, a bit like being in someone else’s life,” she told the magazine.

In the wake of “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” being presented at the Tate, Himid also discussed the recent interest in black art in the UK, attributing the attention to the influence of a new generation of influential curators and arts leaders “young enough not to be afraid of the work made by black artists.”

Himd continued: “They are curious to know why their predecessors couldn’t deal with it and are eager to know how, while being produced behind the scenes and below the radar, it shaped the politics and creative thinking of the past 30 years. Change has come, it’s what we do with it that matters.” CT

 

HEAR MORE about the UK Black Arts Movement from a BBC Radio conversation with some of the artists

 

TOP IMAGE: Portrait of Lubaina Himid, 2017. | Courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens, Photo by Edmund Blok for Modern Art Oxford

 


LUBAINA HIMID, a piece from “Swallow Hard: The Lancaster Dinner Service,” 2007. | Courtesy of Hollybush Gardens

 


Installation view of LUBAINA HIMID, “A Fashionable Marriage” (1986), in “The Place is Here,” at Nottingham Contemporary, 2017, © Nottingham Contemporary, Courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens. Photo by Andy Keate

 


LUBAINA HIMID, “Le Rodeur: The Lock,” 2016. | Courtesy the artist and Hollybush Gardens