Ursula Johnson Wins the 2017 Sobey Art Award!

October 26, 2017

The winner of the 2017 Sobey Art Award, the most prestigious of its kind in Canada, has now been revealed! Ursula Johnson took the prize home after competing in quite a company from four other regions in the country. In what appears to be the most diverse shortlist in the history of the award, we once again had the opportunity to witness the exchange of ideas and to learn about different artistic and curatorial practices from across the land. This year, the award fund was doubled in amount - to a a total of $110,000 - as well, in order to encourage the artists even more! While Ursula Johnson received $50,000, the other finalists got $10,000, while the longlisted artists were given $1,000 each. The Sobey Art Award is given to a Canadian artist aged 40 and under who has exhibited in a public of commercial art gallery within 18 months of being nominated.

Left Ursula Johnson - Hot Looking, 2014 Right Ursula Johnson. Photo Rita Taylor, Courtesy of Banff Centre for the arts
Left: Ursula Johnson - Hot Looking, 2014. Durational performance-based installation with delegated performer and looped audio, variable dimensions, Photo: Michael Wasnidge / Right: Ursula Johnson. Photo Rita Taylor, Courtesy of Banff Centre for the arts

Ursula Johnson - The Best of Canadian Contemporary Art

The 14th Canadian artist to win this annual award, the 37-year-old Ursula Johnson represented the Atlantic region. She works in the field of installation and performance art in order to provide better understanding of Indigenous culture (she is of Mi’kmaw First Nation ancestry herself). Her work engages with strategies of duration and display to interrogate outdated ethnographic and anthropological approaches to these practices. She was singled out for ”her strong voice, her generosity and collaborative spirit” as she ”redefines traditional materials and re-imagines colonized histories.”, it was said in a statement issued by the selection committee. On receiving the award, Ursula Johnson said:

I am so grateful for winning this award! I have so much gratitude to have been selected to represent my region and to be in the company of such brilliant artists who are working in amazing ways! This gift of being the winner of the Sobey Art Award means that I will now have the tremendous opportunity to work on a larger scale and expand the reach of my work to a broader community while exploring more diversity in materials and content as well as beginning to create a network of collaborators internationally!


L’nuwelti’k, 2014
Ursula Johnson - L’nuwelti’k, 2014. Cooperative-based durational performance with black-ash splints Dimensions variable, Photo: Justin Wonnacott, Courtesy of Carleton University Art Gallery for Making Otherwise: Craft and Material Fluency in Contemporary Art curated by Heather Anderson

Sobey Art Award 2017 Finalists

”The five exceptional artists shortlisted for 2017 Sobey Art Award reflect the multiplicity of contemporary Canadian visual arts,” said Josée Drouin-Brisebois, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Canada, who chaired the selection committee of six jurors. Indeed, the Award made sure young Canadian contemporary artists from coast to coast got an opportunity to be seen and supported. For the first time, four of the five shortlisted artists were women as well. From the Prairies and the North, there was Divya Mehra, who creates and appropriates pop culture references to question the effects of racism and colonization; Bridget Moser, with spoken monologues inspired by prop comedy, experimental theater, absurd literature and intuitive dance; and Jacynthe Carrier, a photographer and video-maker who re-imagines relationship between individuals and communities, and the land they inhabit. The fifth finalist and the only male participant, Raymond Boisjoly, is an Indigenous artist of Haida descent working in photography and text-based art which references pop culture in order to re-think representations of indigeneity.

Excavata, 2015
Ursula Johnson - Excavata, 2015. Pine, hardware, found object, ash log shavings (collected from the performance Processing in Mi’kwite’tmn) Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the Artist, Photo: Roger Smith

The Exhibition

As part of the effort to promote and reflect Canadian contemporary art, the works of shortlisted artists, alongside the winner of course, are exhibited at a guest art institutions in odd years and at the National Gallery of Canada in even years. This year, the honors went to the Art Museum at the University of Toronto, which will host the display between October 24th and December 9, 2017.

The Sobey Art Foundation was established in 1981 by entrepreneur and business leader Frank H. Sobey. The institution holds one of the finest private collections of the 19th and 20th Canadian art, containing national masters such as Cornelius Krieghoff, Tom Thomson and J. E. H. MacDonald. With The Sobey Art Award, created in 2002, the foundation broadens its goal to support contemporary art in the country as well.

The Sobey Awards 2017 - Ursula Johnson

Featured image: Ursula Johnson, Installation view of Moose Fence 2017 and (re)al-location 2017 Originally commissioned by Partners in Art for LandMarks2017.