Turner prize’s diverse shortlist ‘makes a powerful political statement’

This year’s Turner prize makes a powerful political statement with a shortlist of artists who champion the diversity of the British art scene, the director of Tate Britain has said.

Alex Farquharson, the chair of the Turner prize judging panel, said that the diverse, cross-cultural shortlist, “the most international to date”, sends an important and timely message during a period of increasing hostility towards immigrants.

He made the comments at the opening of the Turner prize exhibition at Ferens art gallery in Hull on Monday.

This year’s shortlisted artists – Lubaina Himid, Hurvin Anderson, Andrea Büttner and Rosalind Nashashibi – have all taken on political issues in the works that feature in the exhibition. It follows accusations in 2016 that the prize was failing to engage with the current climate, with the work of last year’s winner, Helen Marten, seen as apolitical.

Farquharson said: “It’s certainly an embrace of multiculturalism and I think in that sense it’s reflective of British art and society. The jurists are particularly interested in the transnational, the cross-cultural this year.”

The works of Himid, who was born in Zanzibar, and Anderson, whose parents are Jamaican, both addressed the issue of black representation in art and media. An age limit of 50 was dropped for the prize this year, meaning that at 63 Himid is the oldest artist to be nominated.

Her works selected for the Turner exhibition reflect her contribution to art, and particularly the representation of black women in art, since the 1980s.

Her best-known work, A Fashionable Marriage – a sculpture made from wood cut-outs and featuring figures such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan – was made in 1986. It is featured in the exhibition and its messages about race and polarisation still feel very timely, Farquharson said.

Anderson’s work in the exhibition dwells on his Jamaican heritage and features his paintings of barber shops, which celebrate their role in Afro-Caribbean communities. Also in the show is his work Is It OK to Be Black?, inspired by the wall displays inside of a barber shops, which features Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

Hurvin Anderson’s Is It OK to Be Black? (2016).

Hurvin Anderson’s Is it OK to be Black? (2016). Photograph: Courtesy of the artist

“I would say that that black representation and artistic expression is a huge aspect of art today, both in the UK and internationally,” Farquharson said. He said the removal of the age limit had meant the prize could have a role in championing older artists, who were often female, black or Asian and whose contribution was just beginning to be recognised properly.

“In the art world right now there is an increased interest in, and understanding of, the contribution of black British artists in the 80s,” he said. “They were important in their own day, but it was a struggle and it has not recognised as a key aspect of the story of art at that time. Yet increasingly there is widespread acceptance that the 80s black art movement ushered in a lot of what we see today.”

Other political issues that feature in this year’s show include the conflict in Gaza, which is the focal point of one of Nashashibi’s films, while Andrea Büttner addresses the rise of fascism in the 1940s through the words of the French philosopher Simone Weil.

Farquharson said of the prize: “It can now play a different role and it is already doing so in this exhibition. It reflects a wider interest in the contemporary art world right now in marginalised background practices, often by women, often by black and Asian artists, and the bringing of that work to the fore. It’s too early to tell whether this will be the character of the Turner prize going forward, but it’s certainly an option for future jurors.”

The new rules were also a nod to the fact that the generational divide, particularly apparent in modern art in the 1990s when the Turner prize gained notoriety with the YBA artists, was no longer so apparent.

“Perhaps a few years ago we were in that avant-garde narrative of one generation breaking the rules of a previous generation, but I don’t think that’s where we’re at any more,” said Farquharson. “There is a recognition that these newest developments are often from the hands of artists of an older generation.”

It is the fifth year the Turner prize has been exhibited outside of London. The winner of the £25,000 prize will be announced at a ceremony on 5 December, broadcast live on the BBC.

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