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Stephanie Comilang claims Canada’s Sobey Art Award

The Toronto- and Berlin-based artist expressed relief after winning C$100,000 contemporary art prize: "I don’t have to worry financially now"

Stephanie Comilang Photo: Leroy Schulz

Toronto native Stephanie Comilang was named winner of Canada’s top contemporary art prize, the Sobey Art Award, at the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) in Edmonton Friday night. The C$100,000 annual prize goes to a Canadian artist aged 40 years or younger.

“I don’t have to worry financially now. It’s so amazing,” said the video installation artist shortly after learning she had won. “It’s really tough being an artist. There are so many moments of doubt. You’re broke. Toronto is insane for rent,” she added, noting that she makes a second home in Berlin, where “it’s cheaper”.

Born to Filipino parents who escaped the Marcos dictatorship in the 1970s, Comilang set about breaking new ground in Canada. “Representation means everything,” she said. “Growing up I didn’t really see anyone like me. I didn’t see Filipino artists.”

She graduated from Toronto’s Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD), in 2007, and recognised the college for allowing her to realise her dreams. “At OCAD, it was knowing that you could make art,” Comilang said. “As a kid growing up, you’re not really sure.”

In its decision, the Sobey jury said of the winner’s work: “Through what she calls science-fiction documentaries, Comilang speaks to how the world is increasingly experienced through technology. By using the point of view of a drone, the artist shows how communities, made up of mainly migrant women, carve out space in locations that are never really home.”

Each of the four Sobey runners-up—Nicolas Grenier (Québec), Kablusiak (the Prairies and North), Anne Low (the West Coast and Yukon) and D’Arcy Wilson (the Atlantic)— will also receive C$25,000.