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News / November 14, 2018

Kapwani Kiwanga Wins Sobey Art Award

Born in Hamilton in 1978, Kiwanga studied anthropology and comparative religion at McGill University in Montreal. Now based in Paris, she takes home the $100,000 Sobey first prize.
Artist Kapwani Kiwanga. Artist Kapwani Kiwanga.
Artist Kapwani Kiwanga. Artist Kapwani Kiwanga.

Kapwani Kiwanga, an artist born and raised in Southern Ontario and now based in Paris, has won the $100,000 Sobey Art Award.

The award win was announced this evening in a ceremony at the National Gallery of Canada. At the NGC, works from all the award finalists—including Joi T. Arcand, Jordan Bennett, Jeneen Frei Njootli and Jon Rafman—are on view until February 10, 2019. Each of these four finalists receives $25,000 as well.

“The award affords me the opportunity to create conditions which will allow me to focus more intently on my work and push it further in the years to come,” said Kiwanga in a release. “I am honoured to be included amongst this group of talented artists whose strong voices remind us of art’s potential to both move and challenge. I am thankful to all those who have believed, encouraged, supported, called into question, trusted, taken issue, pushed, shared, disputed, and cared.”

The decision was made by an award jury consisting of Josée Drouin-Brisebois, senior curator of contemporary art at the National Gallery of Canada; Heather Igloliorte, independent curator and Concordia University research chair in Indigenous art history and community engagement; Jean-François Bélisle, executive director and chief curator, Musée d’art de Joliette; November Paynter, director of programs, Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto; Kristy Trinier, executive director, Southern Alberta Art Gallery; Melanie O’Brian, director, Simon Fraser University Galleries; and Séamus Kealy, director, Salzburger Kunstverein.

In a statement, the jury indicated that Kiwanga “points to fissures in our human narrative. Using archival materials and referencing anthropology, agriculture, and urban design, among other sources, she reveals global effects of the colonial project. In so doing, she addresses hidden authoritarian structures, institutional devices, and power imbalances to help us see the world differently.”

Kiwanga is no stranger to international accolades. Earlier this year, she received the Frieze Artist Award, and in the past she has been twice nominated for a BAFTA, states her gallerist Jérôme Poggi. Last year, she was nominated for a Prix Meurice pour l’Art Contemporain in Paris. There have also been many other honours and international shows. (She was also the 2016 commissioned artist for the Armory Show in New York.)

Of late, in terms of Canadian exhibitions, Kiwanga’s work has been shown at the Power Plant in Toronto, the Esker Foundation in Calgary, the Musée d’art de Joliette, the Or Gallery in Vancouver, Centre Clark in Montreal and Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant in Brantford—the latter being the same gallery where she attended art classes as a child. (Later, she studied anthropology and comparative religion at McGill University in Montreal before going on to study fine arts in Paris.) In 2020, she is due to exhibit at the Reach in Abbotsford.

Internationally, Kiwanga’s recent exhibitions include Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg, the Glasgow International, Artpace in San Antonio, and Galerie Tanja Wagner in Berlin, among other locales. Her work is also expected to be shown by Galerie Jérôme Poggi at Art Basel Miami in early December.

The Sobey Art Award is issued annually to a Canadian artist at or under 40. This is the first year that the winner has received $100,000; previously, it was $50,000. Past winners of the prize include Brian Jungen, David Altmejd, Nadia Myre, Abbas Akhavan, Jeremy Shaw and Ursula Johnson, among others.

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is a writer and editor based in Toronto. Her arts journalism has appeared in the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications, and her creative work has been published in Prism, Room and Freefall. She can be reached via