Double Perspective: Lubaina Himid Wins the Turner Prize 2017

Her work animates the consequences of our colonial history and the construction of identity politics: in a divided Britain, will we listen?

Where to begin?

It was Stuart Hall who used the term ‘double perspective’ to convey the residual effects of movement, relocation, and otherness upon the identity of immigrant communities. Whether remain or leave, it's perhaps also a term that could be easily applied to the current status of these divided islands. As the rules of order are currently being rewritten, and the UK undergoes arguably the biggest constitutional crisis since the Second World War, it’s hard not to think of the present without understanding how we arrived at this point. Place this against a backdrop of increasing acceptance that the ideology of neo-liberalism is failing to deliver, and a political system playing catch-up with events, then things are bound to unravel.

Lubaina Himid, A Fashionable Marriage, 1987, wood cut outs (various types of wood), acrylic paint, newspaper, rubber gloves, glue, plastic (dinner plates), paper, tissue, foil, wicker basket, selection of books, cardboard, canvas, charcoal. Loaned from Ho

Lubaina Himid, A Fashionable Marriage, 1987, wood cut outs (various types of wood), acrylic paint, newspaper, rubber gloves, glue, plastic (dinner plates), paper, tissue, foil, wicker basket, selection of books, cardboard, canvas, charcoal, installation view. Loaned from Hollybush Gardens; courtesy: Turner Prize 2017 and the artist; photograph: David Levene

Lubaina Himid, A Fashionable Marriage, 1987, wood cut outs (various types of wood), acrylic paint, newspaper, rubber gloves, glue, plastic (dinner plates), paper, tissue, foil, wicker basket, selection of books, cardboard, canvas, charcoal, installation view, Turner Prize 2017, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull. Courtesy: the artist and Hollybush Gardens, London; photograph: David Levene

The British Isles, Great Britain, the United Kingdom, or whatever uneasy tangle of names this country considers itself to be, was viewed from a very different perspective when the bombs were falling across Europe. ‘There is no question about the inequality of wealth in England. It is grosser than in any European Country, and you only have to look down the nearest street to see it’, wrote George Orwell in his 1941 essay ‘The Lion & The Unicorn’. He was an acute observer of the multiple idiosyncrasies that make up the national psyche, not least our tolerance for incompetence, class structure, and how the texture of these islands are held together by invisible threads of common understanding. He saw things then largely as they might be seen now, except this time, somehow, it feels different.

Post-financial crisis, post-parliamentary expenses scandal, post-Leveson, post 2011 riots (remember those?). Two referendums: one Scottish, one EU. The Chilcot Report, a full-blown housing crisis, an opportunistic General election and Universal Credit, is a sequence that reads like a litany for division and discontent in anyone’s book. Finally, Grenfell, a tragedy which saw appalling levels of contempt crystallized by those in authority for those at the bottom. No wonder everyone except the one percent so effectively identified by Thomas Piketty are pissed off. As it turns out, the more things change, the more they remain the same. This is England your England, never have Orwell’s words seemed more apposite. 

Hurvin Anderson, Northern Range, 2010, oil on linen, exhibition view. Loaned from Private Collection; courtesy: Michael Werner Gallery and the artist; photograph: David Levene

Hurvin Anderson, Northern Range, 2010, oil on linen, exhibition view. Loaned from private collection; courtesy: Michael Werner Gallery and the artist; photograph: David Levene

Hurvin Anderson, Northern Range, 2010, oil on linen, installation view, Turner Prize 2017, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull. Courtesy: the artist and Michael Werner Gallery, London / New York; photograph: David Levene

So, all this should make fertile ground for art and artists, no?

The City of Hull is of course designated this year’s UK City of Culture, a four-yearly Department of Culture Media and Sport government enterprise designed to regenerate local economies and infrastructure. This is not to be confused with the European City of Culture which the UK will inevitably be disqualified from in due course. However, as most artists know, context can be everything, and as a key part of the UK City of Culture package, the city is host to the Turner Prize and the context of Hull is no exception. Despite facing eastwards and outwards toward Europe, it is a location that voted 68% in favour of leaving the EU.

Andrea Büttner, Yes, I believe, every word you say, 2007, woodcut, unique, exhibition view. Loaned from Collection Ruedi Bechtler; courtesy: Turner Prize 2017 and the artist; photograph: David Levene

Andrea Büttner, Yes, I believe, every word you say, 2007, woodcut, unique, installation view. Loaned from Collection Ruedi Bechtler; courtesy: Turner Prize 2017 and the artist; photograph: David Levene

Andrea Büttner, Yes, I believe, every word you say, 2007, woodcut, installation view, Turner Prize 2017, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull. Courtesy: the artist and Hollybush Gardens, London; photograph: David Levene

In the meantime, Tate did a bit of its own rewriting of the rules, and in a move to increase inclusiveness they finally removed the maximum age restriction of 50, a rule introduced in 1991. Sure, the artists on this year’s shortlist couldn’t in any way be described as late developers and this year’s quartet of nominees bring all the benefits of lived experience to the mix. Each could be described as falling into either the established, or mid-career category, and comprised Hurvin Anderson, Andrea Büttner, Lubaina Himid and Rosalind Nashashibi. 

Read: Paul Clinton on The Turner Prize and Identity Politics

Indeed, either the jury has extended invitations to the nominees in an affirmative statement to assert diversity and inclusiveness, or otherwise are offering something deeper to address the multiple perspectives of identity that have always existed between the empowered and disempowered. If so, then to what extent do the nominees counter the inequalities and divisions shown in domestic politics now?

Rosalind Nashashibi, Electrical Gaza, 2015, installation view. Courtesy: Turner Prize 2017 and the artist; photograph: David Levene

Rosalind Nashashibi, Electrical Gaza, 2015, installation view. Courtesy: Turner Prize 2017 and the artist; photograph: David Levene

Rosalind Nashashibi, Electrical Gaza, 2015, installation view, Turner Prize 2017, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: David Levene

On display are diverse sets of strategies: poetic in Anderson’s paintings as meditations on black experience in an English urban and suburban context, or more direct in Büttner’s archival appropriation of key artefacts such as the Simone Weil archive. Her depiction of the destitute and homeless exudes empathy as a recurring motif which makes its point effectively. Another strategy, perhaps a more implicit one, is taken by Nashashibi who presents two films – Electrical Gaza (2015) and Vivian’s Garden (2017) – each depicting circumstances which are framed by unseen or outside forces. Here the artist chooses to show work at opposite ends of the spectrum of human experience. The first, the result of international conflict whose roots lie in Britain’s colonial blundering arrogance in Palestine, the second an intimate portrayal between a mother and daughter in a Guatemalan jungle.

Now that the Turner Prize (established in 1984) is firmly embedded in the national consciousness as one of the main gongs during awards season, there is an implicit understanding from Tate, which runs the award, that the level of debate and publicity in attracting a mainstream audience has been achieved – a process that has also been completed through sponsorship and the media. It has equally been a catalyst in reinventing the idea of the museum itself, what it does, and who might it be for. However, from the artists’ perspective, while each speaks to the wider circumstances through their work, they have made something that works for the here and now. Notably, there are no new commissions for this year’s prize exhibition, which leaves one wondering what approaches Tate may yet take in the future as circumstances continually shift and change.

Lubaina Himid, Le Rodeur: The Exchange, 2016, acrylic on canvas, installation view. Loaned from Hollybush Gardens; courtesy: Turner Prize 2017 and the artist; photograph: David Levene

Lubaina Himid, Le Rodeur: The Exchange, 2016, acrylic on canvas, installation view. Loaned from Hollybush Gardens; courtesy: Turner Prize 2017 and the artist; photograph: David Levene

Lubaina Himid, Le Rodeur: The Exchange, 2016, acrylic on canvas, installation view, Turner Prize 2017, Ferens Art Gallery, Hull.  Courtesy: the artist and Hollybush Gardens, London; photograph: David Levene

Yet it seems appropriate that certain artists find their voice and gain wider acceptance in a world finally catching up with them. The unalterable reality for deserved winner Lubaina Himid – nominated for her solo exhibitions at Spike Island, Bristol and Modern Art Oxford, UK earlier this year as well as her work included in the survey of black British art of the 1980s ‘The Place Is Here’ at Nottingham Contemporary – is a level of professional validation that can be both career defining and international in scope. At the age of 63 the art world has at last caught up with Himid’s engaging tableaux of collage, drawing, painting, interventions, cut-outs, protagonists, and characterizations. Her work – a product of her lived reality growing up as a black woman in Britain as much as her schooling in theatre design at Wimbledon College of Art and cultural history at the Royal College of Art London – does much to animate the consequences of our colonial history and how identity politics are constructed. It’s a view that we may choose, at our own expense, to ignore. But maybe now through Himid’s eyes these stories can be heard. The least we can do is listen. 

Read: Lubaina Himid: My Influences

Given all of this year’s participants originate beyond these shores, and implicitly address the condition of the double perspective, in Hull at least, the reality will hit home that it’s one in the eye for every little Englander. Whose England? England your England, perhaps even Orwell might have approved. It is a sentiment that resonates.

Main image: Lubaina Himid. Courtesy: Modern Art Oxford; photograph: Edmund Blok     

David Osbaldeston is an artist and Reader in Art at Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University. 

Most Read

The punk artists’s invasion of the pitch during the Croatia vs. France match reminded us what Russia’s new ‘normality’...
In further news: Brexit voters avoid arts; New York libraries’s culture pass unlocks museums; Grayson Perry-backed...
If artificial intelligence were ever to achieve sentience, could it feasibly produce art? (And would it be good?)
The punk activist-artists have been charged with disruption after they charged the field during the France vs Croatia...
27 educators are taking the London gallery to an employment tribunal, demanding that they be recognized as employees
In further news: Glasgow School of Art to be rebuilt; Philadelphia Museum of Art gets a Frank Gehry-designed restaurant
Highlights from Condo New York 2018 and Commonwealth and Council at 47 Canal: the summer shows to see
Knussen’s music laid out each component as ‘precarious, vulnerable, exposed’ – and his conducting similarly worked from...
Nods to the game in World Cup celebrations show how dance has gone viral – but unwittingly instrumentalized for...
‘You can’t reason with him but you can ridicule him’ – lightweight as it is, Trump Baby is a win for art as a...
Anderson and partner Juman Malouf are sorting through the treasures of the celebrated Kunsthistorisches Museum for...
From Capote to Basquiat, the pop artist’s glittering ‘visual diary’ of the last years of his life is seen for the first...
‘When I opened Monika Sprüth Galerie, only very few German gallerists represented women artists’
Can a ragtag cluster of artists, curators and critics really push back against our ‘bare’ art world?
In further news: German government buys Giambologna at the eleventh hour; LACMA’s new expansion delayed
Gucci and Frieze present film number two in the Second Summer of Love series, focusing on the history of acid house
Judges described the gallery’s GBP£20 million redevelopment by Jamie Fobert Architects as ‘deeply intelligent’ and a ‘...
Is the lack of social mobility in the arts due to a self-congratulatory conviction that the sector represents the...
The controversial intellectual suggests art would be better done at home – she should be careful what she wishes for
Previously unheard music on Both Directions At Once includes blues as imposing as the saxophonist would ever record
In further news: Macron reconsiders artist residencies; British Council accused of censorship; V&A to host largest...
In our devotion to computation and its predictive capabilities are we rushing blindly towards our own demise?
Arts subjects are increasingly marginalized in the UK curriculum – but the controversial intellectual suggests art is...
An exhibition of performances at Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, unfolds the rituals of sexual encounters
An art historian explains what the Carters’s takeover of the Paris museum says about art, race and power
Artist Andrea Fraser’s 2016 in Museums, Money and Politics lifts the lid on US museum board members and...
The Ruhrtriennale arts festival disinvited the Scottish hip-hop trio for their pro-Palestinian politics, then u-turned
The Baltimore’s director on why correcting the art historical canon is not only right but urgent for museums to remain...
Serpentine swimmers complain about Christo’s floating pyramid; and Hermitage’s psychic cat is a World Cup oracle: the...
The largest mural in Europe by the artist has been hidden for 30 years in an old storage depot – until now
Alumni Martin Boyce, Karla Black, Duncan Campbell and Ciara Phillips on the past and future of Charles Rennie...
In further news: po-mo architecture in the UK gets heritage status; Kassel to buy Olu Oguibe’s monument to refugees
The frieze columnist's first novel is an homage to, and embodiment of, the late, great Kathy Acker
60 years after the celebrated Brutalist architect fell foul of local authorities, a Berlin Unité d’Habitation apartment...
The British artist and Turner Prize winner is taking on the gun advocacy group at a time of renewed debate around arms...
The central thrust of the exhibition positions Sicily as the fulcrum of geopolitical conflicts over migration, trade,...
The Carters’s museum takeover powers through art history’s greatest hits – with a serious message about how the canon...
The 20-metre-high Mastaba finally realizes the artist and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s design
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
US true crime series Unsolved takes two formative pop cultural events to explore their concealed human stories and...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018