Celebrating Canadian Contemporary Art: The 2016 Sobey Art Award Shortlist

Each year, the Sobey Art Award explores contemporary art practice in Canada, bringing artists greater attention, both at home and on the world stage. This year was no exception. Working in installation, video, sound, painting, sculpture, music, dance and land-based art, the nominees on the 2016 Award shortlist tackle today’s thorny issues — from colonial power to cultural identity, regional development to mass migration, and scientific research to political strife. 

Selected from the longlist of 25 Canadian artists announced on April 13, 2016, Jeremy Shaw (West Coast & Yukon), Brenda Draney (Prairies & North), Charles Stankievech (Ontario), Hajra Waheed (Quebec), and William Robinson (Atlantic) make up this year’s shortlist.

“The work being produced in Canada these days is outstanding,” said Sobey Art Award Chair Josée Drouin-Brisebois in an interview with NGC Magazine. “This year’s longlist featured a surprising number of multidisciplinary and conceptual artists, as well as artists working in traditional mediums in new and innovative ways. The artists on the longlist were all strong contenders, and it was challenging to narrow them down to these five finalists.”

Traditionally, both the longlist and shortlist are selected by a jury composed of five regional jurors and the Sobey Art Award Chair. Drouin-Brisebois, who is also Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Canada, was joined by Jonathan Middleton (West Coast & Yukon), Naomi Potter (Prairies & North), Barbara Fischer (Ontario), Marie-Justine Snider (Quebec), and Pan Wendt (Atlantic).

For the first time in the Award’s history, an international juror — Nicolaus Schafhausen — was added to the mix. Schafhausen, who hails from Düsseldorf, Germany, is the current Strategic Advisor for Fogo Island Arts/Shorefast Foundation in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as an internationally renowned curator, author, director, and editor of publications on contemporary art. His participation has not only lent an international perspective to the competition, but is also helping to elevate the global profile of the Award.

“Increasing globalization and its effects are the main issues for all artists today,” Schafhausen told NGC Magazine. “The jury chose five unique approaches by artists whose work links their own artistic production with social context. The challenge that artists face today, given the complexity of art production in the digital age, is how to be different while remaining relevant.”

Representing more than a regional vision of Canadian art, the five artists profiled below cross not only disciplines and mediums, but also national and international boundaries.


Jeremy Shaw (West Coast & Yukon)


Jeremy Shaw, Transcendental Capacity (Billboard Hot 100 Songs of 1984) [detail]: Thompson Twins, “Hold Me Now,” 2013, scanned Kirlian Polaroid, 8.5 x 10.8 cm. Photo: Roman März


Multidisciplinary artist Jeremy Shaw attended the Emily Carr University of Art and Design before settling in Berlin, Germany. His work explores perception and altered states, often in edgy yet mesmerizing videos incorporating fashion, dance, science fiction, and gay subculture. “Jeremy Shaw’s compelling visual work frequently draws upon his interest in the psychedelic,” West Coast & Yukon curator Jonathan Middleton told NGC Magazine, “depicting altered states of mind or similar states of reverie. In this sense, the psychedelic is analogous to art-making — offering a new perspective from which we hope to learn about the world and understand it better. His work is as investigative as it is generative.” 


Brenda Draney (Prairies & North)


Brenda Draney, Evacuation, 2013, oil on canvas, 3 x 4 feet. Photo: Sarah Fuller


Hailing from the Sawridge First Nation near Slave Lake, Alberta, Cree artist Brenda Draney often references hometown experiences and memories in haunting works evoking isolation and solitude. A graduate of the Emily Carr University of Art and Design, the Edmonton-based painter was also longlisted for the Sobey Art Award in 2013. “Brenda Draney takes the personal and makes it universal,” said Prairies & North juror Naomi Potter in an interview with NGC Magazine. “Her work is powerful, completely unique, and without compromise. It is very exciting to see her work being given a national platform; her voice deserves to be heard.”


Charles Stankievech (Ontario)


Charles Stankievech, CounterIntelligence, 2014, installation view at Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, University of Toronto. © Charles Stankievech. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid


Working with sculpture, sound, installation, and film, multidisciplinary artist Charles Stankievech explores the history and geopolitics of time and space, often in large-scale land-based works. A graduate of Concordia University, Stankievich exhibits internationally, and is the current director of Visual Studies at the University of Toronto’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. “In his temporary indoor and outdoor ‘fieldwork’ installations,” Ontario juror Barbara Fischer told NGC Magazine, “Charles Stankievich addresses the transformation of the physical landscape and intangible spaces, as well as the history of technology, resulting in rich commentaries on contemporary social and technological upheaval.”


Hajra Waheed (Quebec)


Hajra Waheed, Untitled (MAP), 2016, infographic print on vellum, 416.6 x 62.5 cm. Installation view at Mosaic Rooms, London. Courtesy of the artist

Through interactive installations, video, sound, sculpture and collage, Montreal-based artist Hajra Waheed addresses topics such as cultural identity, political history, and popular imagination. Waheed has exhibited internationally, and often uses her work to speak for the displaced and dispossessed. “Hajra Waheed is an excellent choice,” Quebec juror Marie-Justine Snider said in an interview with NGC Magazine. “She provides us with a carefully conceived visual world, featuring stories we, as viewers, want to pursue.”



William Robinson (Atlantic)


William Robinson, Liberation Snare, 2014, mixed media installation and performance (percussionists, drum sticks, musical score, notebook, metronome, midi sensor, audio mixer, speakers, wireless transmission device), dimensions variable. Collection of the artist. Photo: Lenny Mullins

William Robinson’s art practice questions social and historical narratives and their relationships to sound and music. Through multidisciplinary work that includes sculpture, print, video, performance, site-specific installation, and musical composition, Robinson explores the impact of sound and music on various built environments. “I was pleased that William Robinson's impressive work was recognized by all of the jurors,” Atlantic juror Pan Wendt told NGC Magazine. “His multimedia installations and sonic narratives are often ephemeral. As a result, Robinson hasn't yet achieved the national recognition he deserves. That will change now, as a wider audience becomes aware of Robinson's compelling and complex work."


“I would like to thank the six jurors for the engaging conversation,” says Drouin-Brisebois, “and for their professionalism and dedication. It is an honour to chair such an inspiring jury. I look forward to working with them and the artists to mount an exhibition at the National Gallery this fall.”

Over the past dozen years, the Sobey Art Award has grown in influence to become one of Canada’s top art prizes. Although there can be only one winner of the final $50,000 Award, the process continues to raise the profile of all nominees, showcasing the exciting work being conceived and produced by Canadian artists under 40 from coast to coast.

The Sobey Art Award winner will be announced at a gala awards ceremony on November 1, 2016. The works of all five finalists will be featured in an exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada from October 6, 2016 to January 5, 2017, giving visitors an unparalleled opportunity to see the work of some of the country’s most important young artists, all in one place. To learn more about the Award, including information on all artists and jurors, please visit gallery.ca/sobey.en.

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