Turner Prize split among all four finalists after plea to judges

The Death of the Shortlist?

Turner Prize split among all four finalists after plea to judges

Turner Prize 2019 winners, (left to right) Oscar Murillo, Tai Shani, Helen Cammock, and Lawrence Abu Hamdan pose for a portrait before the winner of Turner Prize 2019 was announced on December 3rd. (Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images for Turner Contemporary)

At the award ceremony on Tuesday evening, Turner Prize history was made when all four finalists were announced winners. After a plea to the judges, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo, and Tai Shani split the $52,000 prize equally in a ceremony held offsite from the prize’s typical home in London’s Tate Modern

In a joint letter written to the jury, quoted in full in a recent press release, the artists said, “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.” It’s worth noting that none of the artists had ever met each other before being shortlisted. 

Due to the nature of the artists’ work, which includes themes of migration, patriarchy, and civil rights, they urged the judges not to pit subjects against each other. The judges unanimously decided to honor their request and praised their commitment to the power of the collective: “We are honored to be supporting this bold statement of solidarity and collaboration in these divided times. Their symbolic act reflects the political and social poetics that we admire and value in their work.”

One of the winners, Abu Hamdan, describes himself as an “audio investigator” and makes work that explores the “politics of listening” and the role of voice within human rights. His installations and performances reflect in-depth research and investigative work and he has worked with human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Defense for Children International. He is also a member of Forensic Architecture, the art-and-architecture research collective that was shortlisted for the same prize in 2018. 

The prize has never been won collectively in its 35-year history, and perhaps never will going forward. The decision is ultimately sparking conversation on the complicated nature and relevance of cultural awards in the first place. A recent The New York Times headline asks, “What’s the Point of the Turner Prize, Anyway?” and The Guardian wrote, “annually [the prize] seems to divide audiences as much as it brings them together.” But, just like Tate’s website states on the homepage, “The Turner Prize provokes debate about art.” Year after year, it continues to do so.