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Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid c. PA Danny Lawson

In a divided Britain, will we listen to Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid?

8 December 2017

David Osbaldeston from the School of Art writes about the award

by David Osbaldeston, Reader in Art from Manchester School of Art, for Frieze.

To read the full piece, please visit the Frieze website

Now that the Turner Prize (established in 1984) is firmly embedded in the national consciousness as one of the main gongs during awards season, there is an implicit understanding from Tate, which runs the award, that the level of debate and publicity in attracting a mainstream audience has been achieved – a process that has also been completed through sponsorship and the media.

It has equally been a catalyst in reinventing the idea of the museum itself, what it does, and who might it be for. However, from the artists’ perspective, while each speaks to the wider circumstances through their work, they have made something that works for the here and now. Notably, there are no new commissions for this year’s prize exhibition, which leaves one wondering what approaches Tate may yet take in the future as circumstances continually shift and change.

At the age of 63 the art world has at last caught up with Himid’s engaging tableaux of collage, drawing, painting, interventions, cut-outs, protagonists, and characterizations.

 Yet it seems appropriate that certain artists find their voice and gain wider acceptance in a world finally catching up with them. The unalterable reality for deserved winner Lubaina Himid – nominated for her solo exhibitions at Spike Island, Bristol and Modern Art Oxford, UK earlier this year as well as her work included in the survey of black British art of the 1980s ‘The Place Is Here’ at Nottingham Contemporary – is a level of professional validation that can be both career defining and international in scope.

Whose England?

At the age of 63 the art world has at last caught up with Himid’s engaging tableaux of collage, drawing, painting, interventions, cut-outs, protagonists, and characterizations. Her work – a product of her lived reality growing up as a black woman in Britain as much as her schooling in theatre design at Wimbledon College of Art and cultural history at the Royal College of Art London – does much to animate the consequences of our colonial history and how identity politics are constructed. It’s a view that we may choose, at our own expense, to ignore. But maybe now through Himid’s eyes these stories can be heard. The least we can do is listen. 

Given all of this year’s participants originate beyond these shores, and implicitly address the condition of the double perspective, in Hull at least, the reality will hit home that it’s one in the eye for every little Englander. Whose England? England your England, perhaps even Orwell might have approved. It is a sentiment that resonates.