Inuit artist wins $ 100,000 Sobey Art Award

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Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, the multidisciplinary artist from Iqaluit who received this year’s Sobey Art Award on Saturday, hopes his victory will inspire young Inuit to find their own form of creative expression.

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“I want young Inuit in particular to know that making art is integral to who we are as Inuit,” said Williamson Bathory in an interview. “It’s difficult in our colonized world, but it’s a necessity. You should find what you need to express and find the ways and means to do it. We need to do this hard work to decolonize, reclaim and create culture as we live and breathe it. “

The award was presented to the National Gallery of Canada on Saturday at a gala attended by visual arts professionals from across the country and beyond. The five shortlisted artists this year were on site, along with the jury members who chose them, as well as National Gallery Director Sasha Suda, who chaired the jury; Rob Sobey, President of the Sobey Art Foundation; and a special vice-regal guest. In her remarks, Governor General Mary Simon encouraged artists to reclaim their stories.

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“Too often we let others tell our story, speak for us and define us,” she said. “This has been happening to indigenous peoples for too long, let alone other minority communities. But when we take our own stories back, get them back, we can begin to shape ourselves and the way others view us. “

From left to right: His Excellency Whit Grant Fraser;  Her Excellency, the Right Honorable Mary May Simon, Governor General of Canada;  Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, winner of the 2021 Sobey Prize for the Arts;  Sasha Suda, Director and CEO, National Gallery of Canada;  and Rob Sobey, president of the Sobey Art Foundation.
From left to right: His Excellency Whit Grant Fraser; Her Excellency, the Right Honorable Mary May Simon, Governor General of Canada; Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, winner of the 2021 Sobey Prize for the Arts; Sasha Suda, Director and CEO, National Gallery of Canada; and Rob Sobey, president of the Sobey Art Foundation. Photo by Lawrence Cook, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa /HANDOUT

The task of revealing the winner fell to former recipient Stephanie Comilang, who won the award in 2019. She greeted the parents of the artists and dropped an F-bomb to highlight the artists’ struggle. “I’m really proud of you because being an artist is really hard to do and it takes a lot of you,” she said.

When Williamson Bathory heard her name, she responded with a delighted laugh, then took a deep breath and asked us to remember the children. “Your children, our children, the native children,” said the mother of three, who wore caribou antlers carved into her hair and walrus tusk earrings. “Remember the thousands and thousands of indigenous children who are buried in every homeland across the country. ”

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Williamson Bathory’s artistic practice centers on uaajerneq, the ancient form of Greenlandic mask dance, which she learned from her mother. It also includes acting, curating, music, writing, and more. She was nominated for the award by Taqralik Partridge, director of the Nordic Lab at the SAW Gallery in Ottawa.

Williamson Bathory’s piece in the exhibition of the work of multiple shortlisted artists is a video installation titled Nannupugut! (We killed a polar bear!), In which a polar bear skin serves as the screen for a video. The 42-year-old artist and her husband shot the bear in defense when it got too close to their cabin near Iqaluit – now she honors his spirit in the video. The exhibition is on view at the National Gallery until February 22.

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With its $ 400,000 in prizes, including a grand prize of $ 100,000, the Sobey Prize is one of the most generous private art prizes in the world. It was founded by the late Donald Sobey, who passed away in March, to support emerging contemporary artists in Canada. For the first time, nominees for this year’s award did not have to be under the age of 40. The lifting of the age restriction resulted in a record number of entries, with more than 200 artists competing.

Asked about her plans for money, Williamson Bathory said it would allow her to support her family in Iqaluit, “a place where life is extremely, exorbitant.” The capital of Nunavut is also experiencing an unresolved water crisis.

Williamson Bathory is the second Inuit artist to win the award in its 20-year history, 15 years after it was awarded to Annie Pootoogook, who died in 2016.

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