A short list of exceptional artists: The Sobey Art Award Finalists


The penultimate decision is in. The jury for the 2017 Sobey Art Award has announced the five finalists for the prestigious prize: interdisciplinary artist Ursula Johnson, representing Atlantic Canada; photographer and videographer Jacynthe Carrier, from Quebec; performance artist Bridget Moser, from Ontario; multimedia artist Divya Mehra, representing the Prairies and the North; and text-based artist Raymond Boisjoly, of the West Coast and Yukon.

The announcement was made jointly by the Sobey Art Foundation and the National Gallery of Canada. Created in 2002 by the Sobey Art Foundation and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the award is worth a total of $110,000, including $50,000 for the winner, $10,000 for the four other finalists, and $1000 for each of the longlisted artists.

Josée Drouin-Brisebois, the National Gallery’s Senior Curator of Contemporary Art and Chair of the Sobey Art Award Selection Committee, told NGC Magazine, “The five exceptional artists shortlisted for the 2017 Sobey Art Award reflect the multiplicity of contemporary Canadian visual arts.”

For the first time in the history of the award, the majority of finalists are women.


Ursula Johnson (Atlantic)

Ursula Johnson, Elmiet (He/She Goes Home), 2010, cooperative durational performance with white/black ash splints, maple wood, cane reeds, sweetgrass and delegated performers, Photo: Krista Comeau


In her performance art, sculpture, music and printmaking, Ursula Johnson explores notions of identity, ancestry and cultural practice, often juxtaposing aspects of traditional Aboriginal art forms with contemporary forms. For her 2010 work Elmiet (He/She Goes Home), which references Nova Scotia’s 1756 Scalping Proclamation offering a bounty on Mi’kmaw scalps, Johnson created an event to stage what she called the last scalping in Nova Scotia. Of Mi’kmaw First Nation ancestry, Johnson studied Fine Arts at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design (now NSCAD University), graduating in 2006. She lives in Dartmouth.


Jacynthe Carrier (Quebec)

Jacynthe Carrier, brise glace #3 and soleil blanc #4, 2016.


Through photography and video, Jacynthe Carrier explores the relationship between the body and the environment with carefully staged interventions in both rural and urban landscapes. Her 2016 work brise glace (Icebreaker), filmed in winter near Kamouraska, Quebec, shows men and women in dialogue with their rocky, icy surroundings. Based in Quebec City, Jacynthe Carrier holds an MA in Visual Arts from Concordia University.


Bridget Moser (Ontario)

Bridget Moser, Sympathetic Parts, 2016, documentation from performance at Galleria Artericambi, Verona (16 min 24 sec)


Bridget Moser’s work lies somewhere between stand-up comedy, experimental dance and theatre, and absurdist literature. Using humour and self-deprecation, her performances highlight the underlying beauty of haphazard and awkward moments. In her 2013 video Asking for a friend, she wanders around a white room playing with various everyday objects – folding chairs, a microphone, a bicycle pump, a patio umbrella – while meditating aloud about the nature of creativity, relationships and personal success. She is based in Toronto.


Divya Mehra (Prairies & North)

Divya Mehra, Neutral Ethnicity (I guess the money should’ve changed him, I guess I should’ve forgot where I came from), 2014, performance knit (88% polyester, 12% spandex), U.S. men’s tracksuit XS, S, M, L, XL. Photo: Georgia Scherman Project


Working in a variety of media – including sculpture, text, drawing, artist books, installation, advertising, video, and most recently film – Divya Mehra explores notions of colonization, racism and diversity, drawing on references to hip hop, literature and current affairs. Her 2014 work Neutral Ethnicity (I guess the money should’ve changed him, I guess I should’ve forgot where I came from) addresses an incident in which the Bank of Canada withdrew a female scientist’s portrait from its new hundred-dollar bill because it looked too Asian. In her installation, Mehra placed a headless, gold mannequin dressed in hundred-dollar bills in front of a wall papered with more hundred-dollar bills. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and divides her time between Winnipeg, Delhi and New York.


Raymond Boisjoly (West Coast & Yukon)

Raymond Boisjoly, Discrepants: Strategy of Distance, 2016, 254 x 152 cm, solvent-based inkjet on vinyl. Photo : SITE Photography


Raymond Boisjoly is an Indigenous artist of Haida descent. Often using text in his work, he examines aspects of language threatened by disappearance or shifted meanings, frequently blurring past, present and future. He explores history and colonialism, while taking inspiration from Afrofuturist musicians, Eastern thought, fantasy and science fiction. His 2016 work Discrepants: Strategy of Distance, refers to a 1953 anti-colonialist film, Statues Also Die, which questions how the West looks at African statuary as simply aesthetic objects. Boisjoly lives and works in Vancouver, where he received his MFA at the University of British Columbia.


The Sobey Art Award has come to be known as Canada’s most significant contemporary art prize. It is presented to a Canadian artist aged 40 and under who has exhibited in a public or commercial art gallery within 18 months of being nominated. Past Sobey Art Award winners include Abbas Akhavan, David Altmejd, Daniel Barrow, Michel de Broin, Raphaëlle de Groot, Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Tim Lee, Duane Linklater, Nadia Myre, Annie Pootoogook, Jeremy Shaw and Daniel Young & Christian Giroux, all of whom have gone on to national and international careers of considerable renown.

In keeping with the national mandate of the Sobey Art Award, the National Gallery is presenting the exhibition devoted to the award’s finalists in rotating venues: at the National Gallery in even-numbered years, and elsewhere in Canada in odd-numbered years.

A selection of works by these five outstanding artists will be on view in the Sobey Art Award exhibition at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto from October 24 to December 9, 2017. The winner will be announced on October 25, 2017, at a gala held at Hart House Great Hall, University of Toronto.

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