Canada’s diverse art scene on view in list of finalists for 2018 Sobey Art Award

The diversity of Canada’s art scene was on display on Tuesday with the announcement, in a media release, of the five finalists for the 2018 Sobey Art Award. Three of the five have Indigenous heritage and a fourth is an African Canadian.

The finalists are:

•  Jordan Bennett represents the Atlantic region. He was born in Stephenville Crossing, Newfoundland and is of Mi’kmaq descent. Bennett uses painting, sculpture, video, installation and sound to explore land, language, the act of visiting and familial histories. His work challenges colonial perceptions of indigenous histories, stereotypes and presence with a focus on exploring the Mi’kmaq and Beothuk visual culture of Ktaqamkuk.

Jon Rafman of Quebec, explores the impact of technology on contemporary consciousness in his work. He uses virtual worlds to create poetic narratives that engage with the present. Rafman was born in Montreal, studied philosophy and literature at McGill University and received an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

• Hamilton, Ontario-born Kapwani Kiwanga creates works across installation, sound, performance, sculpture and video that marry her training in anthropology, comparative religion and documentary film with interests in history, memory and storytelling. She intentionally confuses truth and fiction in her art to help advance marginalized narratives flourish in subjects such as space travel, anti-colonialism and geology.

• Joi T. Arcand is from the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in central Saskatchewan. She lives in Ottawa today. Her early work in photography and digital collage images was informed by her interest in graphic and typographic arts and included images of streetscapes with Plains Cree words in them. Today her work puts neon signs in Cree syllabics in the interiors and exteriors of buildings.

Jeneen Frei Njootli is an artist (Vuntut Gwitchin) and co-creator of the ReMatriate Collective, who has been living and working as an uninvited guest on unceded Musqueam, Squamish, Sto:lo and Tsleil­Waututh territories for a decade. She uses media such as performance, sound, textiles, collaboration and workshops. She is a graduate of  the Emily Carr University of Art + Design and has an MFA from the University of British Columbia.

The artists’ work will be featured in a group exhibition opening Oct. 3 at the National Gallery of Canada. The winner of the $100,000 prize will be announced Nov. 14 in Ottawa.

The Sobey Art Award is presented annually to a visual artist 40 and under who has exhibited in a public or commercial art gallery within 18 months of being nominated.

The five were chosen from a long list of 25 nominees by an international jury. The 2018 jury was chaired by Josée Drouin-Brisebois who is the senior curator of contemporary art at the National Gallery. On the panel were: Heather Igloliorte, an independent curator and Concordia University Research Chair in Indigenous Art History and Community Engagement; Jean-François Bélisle, executive director and chief curator, Musée d’art de Joliette, Quebec; November Paynter, director of programs, for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto; Kristy Trinier, executive director at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery; Melanie O’Brian, director, Simon Fraser University Galleries; and Séamus Kealy, the director of the Salzburger Kunstverein.

In addition to the $100,000 grand prize, $25,000 goes to the other four finalists and $2,000 to 20 other artists on the long list.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.