While the 2021 Sobey Art Award, Canada’s biggest art prize, was open to artists of all ages for the first time this year (previously, nominees had to be 40 or under), the finalists announced today by the National Gallery of Canada are all around the same generation. They are: Rémi Belliveau (age 32, representing the Atlantic region), Lorna Bauer (41, Quebec), Rajni Perera (36, Ontario), Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory (42, Prairies and North) and Gabi Dao (30, West Coast and Yukon).
“I fangirl some of the artists in my own category, so I was totally shocked that it was me and not them,” says Belliveau of the nomination, adding that he is “happy and humbled” by the distinction. “Only a handful of Acadian people have ever been nominated, so I'm really proud to be able to represent my community and hopefully share some of the spotlight.” Similarly, Bathory says: “My work is populated with my family, culture, language, collaborators and all my ancestors, so it is not just me on this shortlist: it is all of us. I make art because creative expression is essential to decolonisation and in this context, genre is fluid.”
Citing the “ongoing struggles, disparities, absurdities, joys, pleasures and ineffable complexities of this world which have been extraneously heightened under the COVID-19 pandemic”, Dao says she is “honoured to share space with all the other artists in this process, and feel gratitude to all who encouraged me along the way,” while Bauer says the nomination “was definitely a welcome surprise after the difficulty of the last 18 months”. Perera says she is “extremely grateful to the Sobey family and National Gallery for this financial support, as a radically non-white artist and single parent, and I would like to see it for many more of us going forward”.
Each of the five shortlisted artists, chosen by an independent panel of curators from five Canadian regions and two international jurors, will receive C$25,000 (roughly $20,640 in US currency) and have their work shown at the National Gallery from 8 October-20 February 2022. The overall winner, who will receive the top prize of around C$100,000 ($82,680), will be chosen at a gala at the show’s opening. This will be the first award presentation since the passing of the prize’s founder, Donald R. Sobey, in March.
“For 20 years the Sobey Art Foundation has been proud to support Canadian visual artists through this award and we are excited to celebrate their exceptional work at the National Gallery of Canada this fall,” says the foundation’s chair, Rob Sobey.