The winning artists – Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Tai Shani and Oscar Murillo – wanted to make a “collective statement” in a world where there is “already so much that divides and isolates people and communities.”
Although the artists only met for the first time in June, they quickly decided to hijack the Turner prize. “I don’t remember who said it out loud first,” says Shani, “we’d all thought about it. For me, it felt like being nominated was a huge recognition.”
Vogue magazine editor Edward Enninful was particularly shocked when he announced the outcome at Tuesday’s ceremony in Margate, Kent: “here’s something quite extraordinary,” he said. “At a time of political division in Britain and conflict in much of the world, the artists wanted to use the occasion of the Turner Prize to make a strong statement of community and solidarity and have formed themselves into a collective.”
This year, all the nominees address the theme of political division in varying ways. Abu Hamdan, an “audio investigator“, used sound effects to recreate the noises inside a notorious Syrian prison. Cammock created a film immortalising the women who played a pivotal role during the Northern Irish Troubles in the late 1960s. Shani’s boldly-coloured feminist fantasy explored the world “beyond patriarchal limits.” While Murillo’s congregation of human models desperately watch a view of the sea blocked by a dark curtain.
“There was something about the way we work and why we work that resonated,” recalled Cammock. In a time of division and racism, Cammock believed there would be “a resurgence of something toxically dangerous, like a wave that keeps rising”.
The jury remarked “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.”
But not everyone has responded so positively to the unexpected announcement. Reporting for The Independent, Mark Hudson stated that “robbing the judges and the public of the opportunity to scrutinise and compare their work hurts the artists too.”
Whilst Alastair Sooke asked the question: “Is the baffling Turner Prize 2019 result just a virtue signal for the snowflake era?”.
Despite the critics, the winning group stand proud against solitude. They added: “Isolation and exclusion are the weapons of this hostile environment. It is this we seek to stand against by making this symbolic gesture of cohesion.”