Ursula Johnson wins 2017 Sobey Art Award

37-year-old, Halifax-based artist awarded Canada’s most prestigious contemporary art prize worth $50,000, sealing her position as one of the country’s most exciting young artists.

The jury for the 2017 Sobey Art Award announced Ursula Johnson as the winner of Canada’s CA$50,000 prestigious contemporary art prize. She is the fourteenth Canadian artist under 40 to win the distinguished annual award. The announcement was made during a gala event held Wednesday evening at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto. The 37-year-old artist, who was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia and represents the Atlantic region, was presented with the award by last year’s winner, Jeremy Shaw (West Coast and Yukon).

On receiving the award, Ursula Johnson said:
“I am so grateful for winning this award! I have so much gratitude to have been selected to represent my region and to be in the company of such brilliant artists who are working in amazing ways! This gift of being the winner of the Sobey Art Award means that I will now have the tremendous opportunity to work on a larger scale and expand the reach of my work to a broader community while exploring more diversity in materials and content as well as beginning to create a network of collaborators internationally!”

For the first time in the history of the Sobey Art Award, 2017 saw women and Indigenous artists dominate the shortlist. The five finalists’ extraordinary works both challenged and impressed the jury. The selection committee was chaired by Josée Drouin-Brisebois, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Canada.

The selection committee issued the following statement on Ursula Johnson’s remarkable achievement:
Ursula Johnson was singled out for her strong voice, her generosity and collaborative spirit. Through her work, she redefines traditional materials and re-imagines colonized histories.”

Five artists, representing different regions across Canada, are shortlisted for the award, which was increased in 2017 by the Sobey Art Foundation to a total of $110,000 CDN in prize money. $50,000 is awarded to the winner, each of the four finalists receive $10,000, and the longlisted artists win $1,000 each. Works by the five finalists are presented in an exhibition, held this year at the Art Museum of the University of Toronto from 24 October to 9 December 2017.

The five 2017 Sobey Art Award finalists are: Raymond Boisjoly (West Coast and the Yukon); Jacynthe Carrier (Québec); Ursula Johnson (Atlantic); Divya Mehra (Prairies and the North); and Bridget Moser (Ontario).

Rob Sobey, Chair of the Sobey Art Foundation which funds the award, noted:
“On behalf of the Sobey Art Foundation, I would like to personally congratulate.Ursula Johnson on winning the 2017 Award. Every year we are very proud to be able to shine a light on the work of all of the long-listed and short-listed Canadian artists. I want to thank and congratulate every one of them for their enduring contributions to our national culture.”

The first Sobey Art Award was presented in 2002. Past winners include Abbas Akhavan, David Altmejd, Daniel Barrow, Michel de Broin, Raphaëlle de Groot, Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Tim Lee, Duane Linklater, Nadia Myre, Annie Pootoogook, Jeremy Shaw and Daniel Young & Christian Giroux.

In 2016, the National Gallery of Canada became the organizing institution for the Sobey Art Award. Building on the success achieved by the award’s founding partner institution, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, the new partnership fosters and celebrates excellence in contemporary Canadian art nationally and abroad. For more information about the Sobey Art Award, please visit: https://www.gallery.ca/sobey/en/.

From left to right: Ursula Johnson. Photo: Rita Taylor, Courtesy of Banff Centre for the arts and Ursula Johnson, Installation view of Moose Fence 2017 and (re)al-location 2017 Originally commissioned by Partners in Art for LandMarks2017