Art
Lubaina Himid’s Turner Prize Win Makes History
Portrait of Lubaina Himid. Courtesy of Hull UK City of Culture.

Portrait of Lubaina Himid. Courtesy of Hull UK City of Culture.

British artist Lubaina Himid has become the first woman of color and the oldest artist ever to win the Turner Prize, Britain’s most prestigious art award.

The 63-year-old Zanzibar-born artist—whose work deals with race and black identity—grew up in London and lives in the northern city of Preston. Himid was presented with the award by the DJ and artist Goldie in a ceremony held on Tuesday evening in the northern English city of Hull, where her work is on view in an exhibition dedicated to artists shortlisted for the prize.

In her acceptance speech broadcast live on the BBC, Himid thanked the Turner Prize jury and her supporters. “To the people who have stopped me in the streets of Preston and Hull to wish me luck—thank you, it worked,” she said. Himid also thanked the art historians who wrote about her practice in what she called the “wilderness years.”

Lubaina Himid, a piece from Swallow Hard: The Lancaster Dinner Service, 2007. Courtesy of Hollybush Gardens.

Lubaina Himid, a piece from Swallow Hard: The Lancaster Dinner Service, 2007. Courtesy of Hollybush Gardens.

Administered by London’s Tate, the Turner Prize was founded in 1982 and aims to promote “public debate around new developments in contemporary British art.” A £25,000 prize is awarded to an artist for an “outstanding exhibition or other presentation” in a given year. Other shortlisted artists—who this year are Hurvin Anderson, Andrea Büttner, and Rosalind Nashashibi—receive £5,000 each.

Tate Britain director Alex Farquharson, who chaired the Turner Prize jury of Dan Fox, Martin Herbert, Emily Pethick, and Mason Leaver-Yap, praised Himid’s work, telling The Guardian that it dealt with “difficult, painful” subjects. Over her long career, Himid has continually explored themes of immigration, slavery, and racial identity through a rich and varied practice.

“I’m absolutely concerned with expressing how [people of color have] shaped British culture, either by bringing in wealth via slavery, for instance, or how we’ve changed it by our very existence,” Himid told Artsy in January, ahead of a pair of solo shows at Modern Art Oxford and Spike Island, Bristol.

Her work on view in the Turner Prize exhibition, which runs through January 7th at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull, stretches back to the 1980s and includes A Fashionable Marriage—a 1987 installation inspired by William Hogarth’s Marriage-a-la-Mode and comprised of cutouts of figures such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Lubaina Himid, detail of A Fashionable Marriage, 1987. Courtesy of Hollybush Gardens.

Lubaina Himid, detail of A Fashionable Marriage, 1987. Courtesy of Hollybush Gardens.

The Turner Prize win is set to bring major exposure to Himid—who is also a curator and professor of contemporary art at the University of Central Lancashire—at a time of growing public attention to her work. The exhibition in Hull has already drawn some 90,000 people.

Yet the artist herself rejects the idea that she was ignored. “I was overlooked by critics, by press, but I was never overlooked by art historians or curators or other artists,” she told the BBC. “It won’t make any difference to the kind of work I make but it will make a difference to…the people who have supported me all these years,” she added of winning the Turner Prize. “That sounds like a cliche, but I’ve kind of won it for them, too.”

Isaac Kaplan is an Associate Editor at Artsy.