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News / December 4, 2017

Hank Willis Thomas Wins Aimia | AGO Photography Prize

Thomas, who has been called "America's great protest artist," wins $50,000 in Toronto-based award competition decided by popular vote.
Hank Willis Thomas, <em>Raise Up</em> (detail), 2013. Bronze. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery. Hank Willis Thomas, Raise Up (detail), 2013. Bronze. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery.

American artist Hank Willis Thomas has won the $50,000 Aimia | AGO Photography Prize.

The award, which is decided by popular vote, was announced this evening at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

Hank Willis Thomas, based in New York, is a multidisciplinary artist known for works relating to identity, history and popular culture. He has exhibited throughout the US and internationally including the International Center of Photography, the Public Art Fund and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Current exhibitions include Prospect 4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp in New Orleans. In October, the Guardian called him “America’s great protest artist.”

The artist’s collaborative works include For Freedoms, the first artist-run Super PAC, which was initiated in 2016. In an interview earlier this year with Daily Serving, Thomas commented on the For Freedoms project:

My collaborators and I recognize that the political system is a commercial industry, just like the fine-art world. Both trade in abstract ideas—to me it doesn’t feel like much of a leap. Part of our interest in creating For Freedoms was to acknowledge the commonalities between art and politics, but also make visible the bridges between the two. There’s a need for critical and creative thinking, which is not something that our president encourages. Art both encourages and demands it. We’re seeing what’s at stake in the political landscape, and we need spaces for critical language and deeper conversation. We want alternatives to empty catchphrases.

Earlier this year, Thomas also won a 2017 Soros Equality Fellowship with a proposal to “use the tools of a contemporary advertising agency to create a campaign aimed at exploring and discrediting distortions in the racial narrative in the United States.”

Runners-up for the Aimia | AGO Prize this year are Liz Johnson Artur (Ghana/Russia), Raymond Boisjoly (Haida Nation/Canada) and Taisuke Koyama (Japan), each of whom will receive $5,000 to support their photography practices.

The prize shortlist this year was chosen by AGO photography curator Sophie Hackett, artist Ken Lum and ICA/Boston chief curator Eva Respini.

Launched in 2007, the Aimia | AGO Photography Prize aims to recognize the best in Canadian and international contemporary photography. The prize has comprised an annual exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario, a range of public programming and a national scholarship program. It has included awards of $50,000 to the winner, $5,000 to each of the three runners-up, $7,000 to each of three scholarship winners and $1,000 to each of their respective schools.

Previous winners of the prize include German artist Ursula Schulz-Dornburg (2016), Americans Dave Jordano (2015) and Lisa Oppenheim (2014) and Canadian Erin Shirreff (2013).

An exhibition of the 2017 winner’s and the finalists’ work will be on view at the AGO until January 14, 2018.