Mi’kmaw artist Ursula Johnson wins 2017 Sobey Art Award

Ursula Johnson's (re)al-location 2017 a repeat pattern print on adhesive vinyl Originally commissioned by Partners in Art for LandMarks. This piece is part of the Sobey Art Award exhibition at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto.

The 2017 Sobey Art Award has been won by a 37-year-old Mi’kmaw artist from Halifax.

Ursula Johnson, who was born in Sydney, N.S., has won the $50,000 prize which is given annually to a Canadian artist under 40 by the Sobey Art Foundation. The award was handed out Wednesday night in a ceremony at  the Art Museum at the University of Toronto.

In a media release, Johnson greeted the award this way: 

“I am so grateful for winning this award. I have so much gratitude to have been selected to represent my region and to be in the company of such brilliant artists who are working in amazing ways. This gift of being the winner of the Sobey Art Award means that I will now have the tremendous opportunity to work on a larger scale and expand the reach of my work to a broader community while exploring more diversity in materials and content as well as beginning to create a network of collaborators internationally.”

Ursula Johnson. Photo: Photo: Rita Taylor, Courtesy of Banff Centre for the arts.

Johnson is a performance and installation artist whose work has been included in more than 30 group shows and five solo exhibitions. Along with her performance art pieces, Johnson works in various mediums including performance art, sculpture, music and printmaking.

This year, for the first time, the release said, the shortlist of artists was dominated by women and Indigenous artists.

The shortlist included five finalists each representing a region of the country. Each of the four finalists receive $10,000. Long-listed artists win $1,000 each making for a total of $110,000. The art of the five finalists are on view at the Art Museum of the University of Toronto until Dec. 9. 

The other finalists are: Raymond Boisjoly (West Coast and the Yukon); Jacynthe Carrier (Québec); Divya Mehra (Prairies and the North) and Bridget Moser (Ontario).

A list of the 2017 Sobey Art Award long-listed artists can be accessed at sobeyartfoundation.com.

The first Sobey Art Award was handed out in 2002. Past winners include: Abbas Akhavan, David Altmejd, Daniel Barrow, Michel de Broin, Raphaëlle de Groot, Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Tim Lee, Duane Linklater, Nadia Myre, Annie Pootoogook, Jeremy Shaw and Daniel Young & Christian Giroux.

In 2016, the National Gallery of Canada became the organizing institution for the Sobey Art Award, gallery.ca.

The 2017 Sobey Art Award selection committee was chaired by Josée Drouin-Brisebois, the senior curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery. There were six jurors: Sarah Fillmore, chief curator at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (Atlantic); Claude Bélanger, general and artistic director, Manif d’art de Québec (Québec); Sarah Robayo Sheridan, curator of the Art Museum at the University of Toronto (Ontario); Jenifer Papararo, executive director at the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art (Prairies and the North); Reid Shier, director and curator of the Presentation House Gallery (West Coast and the Yukon); Adam Budak, chief curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the National Gallery in Prague, Czech Republic.

The Sobey Art is presented to a Canadian artist under 40 who has exhibited in a public or private gallery in the 18 months before nomination. Originally conceived by Donald R. Sobey, then-Chairman of both the Sobey Art Foundation and the National Gallery of Canada Board of Trustees. Since 2002, it has highlighted the work of more than 350 artists. The Sobey Art Foundation was established in 1981 to collect and preserve

representative examples of 19th- and 20th-century Canadian art. The collection is housed at Crombie House, the former home of Frank Sobey and his wife Irene, in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, and is open to the public, free-of-charge, the release said.

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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.