SHARING IS CARING, or at least catching. In October the Booker prize divided the 2019 award between two authors, Bernadine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood, as the judges said that they “couldn’t separate” the novels. This week the Bad Sex in Fiction award, for the year’s most toe-curling depictions of literary coupling, also announced two victors, for “there was no separating [them]”. Now the Turner prize, Britain’s premier award for contemporary art, has been awarded to all four shortlisted artists at once.
Rather than the product of indecisive judges, the surprise announcement on December 3rd came after the four nominees—Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani—lobbied the jury to treat them as a collective. The artists met for the first time earlier this year at the prize’s official exhibition at Turner Contemporary in Margate. In a joint letter to the judges, who were chaired by Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain, they said: “Each of us makes art about social and political issues and contexts we believe are of great importance and urgency. The politics we deal with differ greatly, and for us it would feel problematic if they were pitted against each other, with the implication that one was more important, significant or more worthy of attention than the others.”
“At this time of political crisis in Britain and much of the world, when there is already so much that divides and isolates people and communities, we feel strongly motivated to use the occasion of the prize to make a collective statement in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity—in art as in society.” The judges concurred, and divided the £40,000 ($52,200) award equally between them. (£25,000 usually goes to the winner, with the other shortlisted artists receiving £5,000.)
A self-described “ear-witness” artist, Mr Abu Hamdan, who is 34, uses interviews with former detainees from the notorious Sednaya military prison, north of Damascus, as a way of exploring sound, memory and human rights. Ms Cammock, a 49-year-old artist from Staffordshire, specialises in social history, using film and photography as well as text and performance to look at the role of women, principally in the civil-rights movement in Northern Ireland.
The youngest of the four artists, Oscar Murillo (33), whose work has recently been shown at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge and at the chi K11 art museum in Shanghai, puts a contemporary twist on conventional sculpture; he uses recycled materials to create figures from his native Colombia in a study of globalisation and displaced migrants. Tai Shani, 43, who teaches at the Royal College of Art and whose work is the most surreal of the four winners, has used “The Book of the City of Ladies”, a proto-feminist text by Christine de Pizan, a 15th-century Venetian-born French poet, to create a piece about an allegorical city populated by women and creatures of fantasy.
Their work emphasises social exclusion and silenced voices with considerable imagination and power. Seen together, the four artworks—which are on display until January 12th in Margate—are proof that, in this instance at least, more is more.