Once again, the Turner Prize makes history. One of the most prestigious arts awards in the world went to all four nominees for the first time ever, after Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani made a plea for the judges to recognize the causes of “commonality, multiplicity and solidarity”.
At the traditional annual ceremony, which was broadcast live from Margate on BBC on December 3, it was announced that the £40,000 prize will be split evenly into four shares for each artist. Even though they had never met before, they joined their forces for the occasion to give the prestigious jury a (no) brainer.
It was one joint letter that changed it all, but it’s not the only thing that connects the four artists nominated for Turner Prize 2019. All of their practices deal with the very hot topics of today, such as migration, patriarchy, civil rights. Their letter to the people deciding upon the winner of the Turner Prize tried to reflect the thought that their vision is unique and is not to be divided.
After a number of discussions, we have come to a collective view that we would like to be considered together for this year’s award. We are therefore writing to request that you as the jury might consider awarding the Prize to the four of us collectively and not to any of us individually. We hope that you will both understand and honour the position we have arrived at.
This year you have selected a group of artists who, perhaps more than ever before in the Prize's history, are all engaged in forms of social or participatory practice. More specifically, each of us makes art about social and political issues and contexts we believe are of great importance and urgency. The politics we deal with differ greatly, and for us it would feel problematic if they were pitted against each other, with the implication that one was more important, significant or more worthy of attention than the others.
None of us had met each other prior to the Turner Prize, however on our initial meeting in Margate, we quickly recognised the underlying shared ethos that runs across our otherwise very different practices. At this time of political crisis in Britain and much of the world, when there is already so much that divides and isolates people and communities, we feel strongly motivated to use the occasion of the Prize to make a collective statement in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity - in art as in society.
We hope you will find you can honour the position we have taken and award the Prize this year to the four of us collectively.
After receiving the letter, the jury reportedly unanimously accepted the request, and awarded the Turner Prize to more than one artist for the first, and possibly the only, time in its history.
We are honoured to be supporting this bold statement of solidarity and collaboration in these divided times. Their symbolic act reflects the political and social poetics that we admire and value in their work.
Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain, commented that they were “overwhelmingly excited” by such decision of the artists.
While Lawrence Abu Hamdan creates video art and installations dealing with oppression and human rights, and is a self-described audio investigator who explores “the politics of listening”, Oscar Murillo explores the issues of identity and explores the dynamics of communities, among other things. Tai Shani’s experimental text-based performances, films, photographs and sculptural installations depict “dark, fantastical worlds, brimming with utopian potential.” Finally, the complexities of social histories are delved into by Helen Cammock, uncovering the marginalized voices within history.
The Turner Prize previously made headlines when it made artists over the age of 50 eligible to compete.
The exhibition of work by the four Turner Prize 2019 artists is on view at Turner Contemporary in Margate until January 12, 2020.