Turner Prize 2021: winner announced after collectives dominate shortlist

Group of Belfast artists have become first Northern Irish winners of prize

Array Collective's art focuses on sociopolitical issues affecting the region. PA

Array Collective, a group of artists in Belfast whose work is a response to issues affecting Northern Ireland, have been named the winners of the Turner Prize 2021.

The group, comprising 11 artists, have made history, becoming the first Northern Irish winners of the prize.

They have been working together “more actively” since 2016 and “create collaborative actions in response to sociopolitical issues” affecting the region.

Their success was announced at a ceremony in Coventry Cathedral where they were presented with the £25,000 ($33,000) prize money.

“It’s surreal. We have not been making work over the last year with lockdown. It has motivated and pushed us” said Array Collective member Laura O’Connor, holding a baby on the stage.

“I think we surprised ourselves with what we came out with in the end and we are so proud of it,”

The group added that they were going to celebrate with “a few pints” after winning the prize.

The five-strong shortlist this year was made up entirely of artist collectives for the first time in the history of the award, with no single person chosen.

The four other nominees — Black Obsidian Sound System (B.O.S.S.), Cooking Sections, Gentle/Radical and Project Art Works — were all awarded £10,000.

The jury awarded the top prize to Array Collective for “their hopeful and dynamic artwork which addresses urgent social and political issues affecting Northern Ireland with humour, seriousness and beauty”.

The group impressed the jury with their ability to “translate their activism and values into the gallery environment, creating a welcoming, immersive and surprising exhibition”, a statement said.

The sibin, a “pub without permission”, is an immersive installation with a large canopy styled from banners which provides a floating roof and a circle of flagpoles that reference ancient Irish ceremonial sites.

The winning artwork was designed as a place to gather outside the sectarian, which has dominated the collective memory of Northern Ireland for the past 100 years.

“Of course, it was a hard one, the decision,” said Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain and chairman of the Turner Prize jury.

“But what the jurists were drawn to, I think, was both a combination of the seriousness of the issues they’re dealing with, in a very divided world, but the joy, the hope, the fun, the surprise … with which they do their political work as artworks.

“I think the feeling was that the exhibition had really successfully translated the spirit of what they do, how they go about it, this amazing sibin you know, illegal pub, Northern Irish style in the middle of a gallery with these amazing videos of performances that were quite mesmerising.

“While underneath it all a really serious message, imagining a life, beyond sectarianism, beyond patriarchy, that’s campaigning for reproductive rights, for LGBT+ rights, but again with a spirit of the absurd and a light touch that’s nevertheless profound and engaging, and they felt that was absolutely present in the exhibition space in a very surprising way.”

Last year, 10 artists were awarded £10,000 ($13,000) bursaries in lieu of the Turner Prize after it was called off because of the pandemic.

The Turner Prize, named after the radical British painter JMW Turner, is one of the world’s best-known prizes for the visual arts celebrating British artistic talent.

Established in 1984, the prize is awarded to British artists for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work.

High-profile winners through the years include Anish Kapoor, Grayson Perry, Damien Hirst and Steve McQueen.

Next year, the Turner Prize returns to the Tate Liverpool for the first time in 15 years.

Updated: December 1st 2021, 9:42 PM