Iraqi-Finnish artist Adel Abidin wins $100,000 Ithra Art Prize

Chosen from a shortlist of 10, the winning proposal explores the complexities of capturing events

A handout photo of Adel Abidin (Photo by Pekka Niittyvirta) *** Local Caption ***  al14se-planner.jpg
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Iraqi-Finnish artist Adel Abidin has been named winner of the fifth Ithra Art Prize.

The King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture (Ithra) on Tuesday announced that out of the 10 shortlisted artists, Abidin’s proposal — a wall installation entitled ON, which explores the complexity of capturing events — was selected as this year's winner.

Abidin was awarded $100,000 for the winning piece, which explores the intersection of history, memory and identity. It was fuelled by his own research on the Zanj rebellion against the Abbassid Caliphate, which began in 869AD in southern Iraq.

“As I delve into the intangible aspects of history, I am confronted with the challenge of scarce reliable archival sources,” Abidin says.

“This challenge is especially present in the context of Arab history, where much remains shrouded in ambiguity, allowing for a broad range of interpretations and augmentations. In studying the Zanj rebellion of 869AD in Iraq, I find a captivating example of this complexity.”

In his research, Abidin found the oral accounts that survived the rebellion had been interrupted or modified depending on who was recording them. Such inconsistencies and complexities partly fuelled the ideas for ON.

Abidin’s work has always explored the relationships between art, politics, memory and identity. His own cross-cultural background has been a vehicle through which he has generated a unique and engaging visual language that is both full of paradoxes and universal. He has been granted the $100,000 to bring his project to life, after which it will become part of the Ithra collection.

“The Ithra Art Prize reaffirms Ithra’s commitment to developing the creative industries in the kingdom, the region and the wider world,” says Farah Abushullaih, Ithra's head of museums.

“As one of the largest art grants regionally, we support artists to develop important and meaningful work. The prize aims to inspire creative thought, broaden cultural horizons and enable talent, while empowering the art ecosystem.”

Judging alongside Abushullaih were art historian Andree Sfeir-Semler, prominent Bahraini artist Balqees Fakhro, curator and art historian Murtaza Vali and deputy chairman of Middle East and North Africa at Christie’s, Ridha Moumni.

Updated: May 16, 2023, 11:47 AM