UK Turner Prize for art goes to Array Collective

Array Collective work together to respond to issues affecting Northern Ireland

A group of 11 Northern Ireland-based artists known as the Array Collective won the UK’s prestigious Turner Prize on Wednesday.

The collective from Belfast aims to tackle issues affecting Northern Ireland through collaborative action. Their work includes performances, protests, exhibitions and events. The jury praised the way the Array Collective combines seriousness with humor and addresses contemporary issues using ancient folk imagery.

Recent projects by Array include public artworks in support of the decriminalization of abortion in Northern Ireland, challenging legal discrimination against the queer community, and participation in the group exhibition Jerwood Collaborate! in London.

“We are so proud to be from Belfast, to be of Belfast, and the communities we work with,” collective member Stephen Millar said as they accepted the award during a ceremony in Coventry.

Director of the Tate Britain, Alex Farquharson, who also chairs the Turner Prize jury, commended Array for focusing on subjects ranging from LGBT and feminist issues to Northern Irish sectarianism in their art.

“What they deal with is really serious stuff,” he told the prize ceremony.

“What the jury feels is remarkable is that amazing lightness of touch and play and conviviality, and sense of hospitality and the sense of carnival that they bring to the work.”
Collective action

For the first time, the Turner jury’s shortlist included only artist collectives. All of the nominees work with communities across the UK to promote social change through art. According to the jury, their work reflected solidarity and community in the pandemic.

Since September and until January 12, 2022, their works have been on display at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry as part of the 2021 UK Capital of Culture celebrations.

In the past two years, the awarding of the prize caused a stir because of unusual decisions: in 2019, the nominated artists had asked the jury in a letter to share the prize, as a statement of “commonality, diversity and solidarity” in a time of political crisis. They wanted to send a signal “in an era marked by the rise of the right and the renewal of fascism.”

In 2020, the jury did not award any prize money but instead gave out 10 scholarships worth the equivalent of €11,500 ($13,000) each as a form of coronavirus support.
A prestigious award

The Turner Prize is one of the world’s best-known prizes for visual art and aims to promote public debate on contemporary British art. The prize was established in 1984 and is named after the British painter JMW Turner (1775-1851).

The winner of the Turner Prize receives 25,000 pounds (€29,000; $33,000), while the other shortlisted artists each receive 10,000 pounds. The jury and also the award ceremony are organized by London’s Tate Gallery, which has also exhibited works by the nominees so far.

Array Collective member Laura O’Connor said they would use the prize money to help fund a permanent base in Belfast, where space is becoming less affordable for artists.

In addition to Array, the shortlist included four other collectives, including Black Obsidian Sound System (B.O.S.S.), a London-based group working in the fields of art, sound and radical activism; Cooking Sections, a London duo that explores the systems that organize the world through food; Gentle/Radical, a Welsh project led by artists, community workers, performers, faith practitioners, writers, and others who advocate for art as a tool for social change; and Project Art Works, a collective of neurodiverse artists and makers based in Hastings.

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