Stephanie Comilang wins the 2019 Sobey Art Award, a $100K prize

The 2019 Sobey Art Award finalists are, clockwise from left: Kablusiak (Prairies and the North), Stephanie Comilang (Ontario), Anne Low (West Coast and the Yukon), D'Arcy Wilson (Atlantic region) and Nicolas Grenier (Quebec).

Established in 2002, the Sobey Art Award honours Canadian artists 40 years of age or under.

Spanning all regions of Canada, these five artists vied for the pre-eminent 2019 Sobey Art Award, clockwise from left: Anne Low, Stephanie Comilang (winner), Kablusiak, D'Arcy Wilson and Nicolas Grenier. (Loewe Foundation/Anne Amores/Elyse Bouvier/Chris Friel/Atelier Nicolas Grenier)

The Sobey Art Foundation and the National Gallery of Canada has announced filmmaker Stephanie Comilang as the winner of the $100,000 annual Sobey Art Award.

The evening gala was held at the Art Gallery of Alberta, on November 15. 

The remaining four finalists, Nicolas Grenier, Kablusiak, Anne Low and D'Arcy Wilson, will each receive $25,000, and the other longlisted artists will likewise receive $2,000.

In addition to monetary awards, three artists from the longlist will be selected by the jury to take part in the Sobey Art Award Residencies Program. 

The 2019 shortlist echoes the jury's excitement about younger practices in all regions of the country and will bring new awareness to the five artists' inventive work. - Josée ​​​​​Drouin-Brisebois, Chair of the 2019 Sobey Art Award Jury

Established in 2002, the Sobey Art Award honours Canadian artists 40 years of age or under, who have exhibited their work in a public or commercial art gallery within 18 months of being nominated. Past winners include some of the country's most celebrated talents: Brian Jungen, the late Annie Pootoogook, David Altmejd and 2018 winner, Kapwani Kiwanga.

This year, the 2019 Sobey Art Award exhibition, which is organized by the National Gallery of Canada, is being shown at the Art Gallery of Alberta. 

Learn about the winner and the four finalists

2019 Sobey Art Award winner Stephanie Comilang: Ontario
Based in Toronto and Berlin

Artist Stephanie Comilang divides her time between Toronto and Berlin. Her documentary-based works look at how our understanding of mobility, capital and labour on a global scale are shaped by cultural and social factors. 

She describes her films as "science fiction documentaries". As she puts it: "I'm interested in real-life stories and being told these stories by the people themselves. That is usually a starting point for me: listening to a truth that is theirs and then shifting the narrative to create a new one."

Comilang approaches her work by layering imagined narratives on top of real-life situations.

D’Arcy Wilson | The Memorialist (Museology): Dendragapus canadensis, USNM A 12565, 2016. Archival inkjet print; 51 × 56 cm. Courtesy the artist. This Victorian specimen was procured and prepared by Andrew Downs from the grounds of his 19th-century zoological gardens in Halifax, NS. It is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. The memorial bouquet (gouache, collage and gold leaf on paper) was presented to the bird on 26 May 2016. (Photo: Chris Friel)

"The themes I keep coming back to are ideas around home and how, filtered through the lens of migrants, this idea becomes fluid," she says.

"More recently, I've been interested in how the female figure, not the body, but maybe the female spirit, moves through space -- whether she be a migrant, a ghost, a drone or a shaman. How does the Filipina migrant living in Hong Kong create space for herself, for example?"

Comilang's work has been shown at the Ghost:2561 Bangkok video and performance art triennale, SALTS Basel, UCLA, International Film Festival Rotterdam, and the Asia Art Archive in America (New York). She received her BFA from the Ontario College of Art and Design.

D'Arcy Wilson: Atlantic
Based in Corner Brook

D'Arcy Wilson is an Atlantic-Canadian artist whose work laments past and ongoing colonial interactions with the natural world, all from her perspective as a descendent of European settlers in Canada.

"My work considers the tension between care and harm in Western culture's relationship to nature, and I often use my own body as a performer or persona to address this," Wilson says.

For Wilson, performance is intuitive and has an immediacy whereby she can use her body to unpack the history and stories she's exploring.

"I process my ideas through material production, but I am also drawn to labour-intensive practices — time and labour are relatable to diverse audiences, and so the material practice becomes another way to connect with the viewer. The art objects that result become the residue and the souvenirs of larger bodies of work, or ephemeral performances."

Agliutit makpiraaq hahnemuhle, makpiraaq 2/3; 81.3 × 122 cm. Art Gallery Alberta katitait, niuviqtuaq manik taamna Canada Council Nutaaq Chapter Manik Savaktiit / Digital inkjet print on Hahnemühle photo rag paper, edition 2/3; 81.3 × 122 cm. Art Gallery of Alberta Collection, purchased with funds from the Canada Council New Chapter Grant Program. (Submitted by Sobey Art Foundation)

Her interdisciplinary work has been presented across the country, most recently at the Dalhousie University Art Gallery (Halifax), Beaverbrook Art Gallery (Fredericton), The Rooms Art Gallery (St. John's) and the Owens Art Gallery (Sackville), as well as M:ST, Flotilla, and Connexion ARC. Her work will also be included in FLOE: the 2019 Bonavista Biennale. 

D'Arcy has an MFA from the University of Calgary, and a BFA from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick. She is currently based in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where she is Assistant Professor in the Visual Arts Program on Memorial University of Newfoundland's Grenfell Campus.

Kablusiak: Prairies and North
Based in Mohkinstsis/Calgary

Kablusiak is an Inuvialuk artist and curator based in Mohkinstsis (Calgary), and a board member of Stride Gallery (Mohkinstsis). Their awards include the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Young Artist Prize and the Primary Colours Emerging Artist Award. 

The artist uses art and humour to address cultural displacement, and the lighthearted nature of her work invites empathy and solidarity, potentially inspiring reconsideration of what contemporary Indigeneity means.

"I like to bank on the humour associated with absurdity. I choose it because humour is a marked way to deal with trauma, especially for Indigenous folks."

As a form of practice, Kablusiak says the concept drives the medium.

"I have visual forms I often like to work with, as I feel they have set a precedent in my practice to represent certain things — for example, the soapstone sculptures and the use of the ghost costume," the artist says.

"But when I have a concept I want to see through, that concept will drive what form it will take in the real world."

Stephanie Comilang | Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (Come to Me, Paradise) (film still), 2016. 3-channel HD video with colour and sound (25:44 min), cardboard; dimensions variable. (Courtesy of Stephanie Comilang)

As an Inuvialuit artist, Kablusiak says they do encounter "exotification of Inuit artists, being asked to speak for all Inuit, people not knowing about the four distinct regions of Inuit Nunangat, being treated as a human google machine (and these don't only apply to Inuvialuit artists; I feel that any BIPOC person has to deal with these things. I suppose they are known as microaggressions)."

Kablusiak has recently exhibited work at Art Mûr (Montreal) as part of the Biennale d'art contemporain autochtone, and at the Athens School of Fine Arts in Greece, as part of the Platforms Project. Kablusiak and three other Inuit curators will also be creating the inaugural exhibition of the new Inuit Art Centre in 2020. 

Anne Low: West Coast and Yukon
Based in Montreal

Montreal-based artist Anne Low makes sculptures on what she calls a "domestic and human scale." 

She uses sculpture, installation, textiles and printmaking to investigate how forms can be detached from their historical contexts and speak to contemporary sensibilities.

I produce forms that are made now and as a result they can only be contemporary.- Anne Low

The infusion of mystery into contemporary forms allows her work explore broader narratives surrounding the impulse to decorate, and how that desire is expressed onto the surfaces of domestic interiors and objects. 

Anne Low | Dust bed, 2018–2019. Handwoven silk, cotton, foam; 35.6 × 35.6 × 134.6 cm. Installation view of Bletting, Franz Kaka, Toronto, 2019. (Submitted by Anne Low and Franz Kaka )

"My work is a process of translation and extrapolation that comes from my own research into material history," she says.

"The work is always what is in front of the viewer... I produce forms that are made now and as a result they can only be contemporary."

Her recent solo exhibitions include Chair for a woman (Vancouver), Paperstainer (Toronto), and A wall as a table with candlestick legs (Stockholm). Recent group exhibitions include Soon Enough – Art in Action (Stockholm) and Clive Hodgson & Anne Low (London, U.K.). Her collaboration with Evan Calder Williams — The Fine Line of Deviation — has been exhibited at Forum Expanded (Berlin), Mercer Union (Toronto), and ISSUE Project Room (New York City). 

Artist Nicolas Grenier: Quebec
Based in Montreal and Los Angeles

Nicolas Grenier, who lives and works in Los Angeles, has a BFA from Concordia University, an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (Maine). 

His work has been exhibited at the Power Plant (Toronto), the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (Québec City), Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, Gagosian (Athens), the Bruges Contemporary Art and Architecture Triennial (Belgium), and Union Gallery (London, U.K.). 

Grenier mostly works with visual representation, from painting and architectural installations to conceptual models and experiments that examine socio-economic dynamics. 

Nicolas Grenier| Many Questions (The question of how to build a better world; The question of what makes a community; The question of social interactions; The question of content; The question of data collection; The question of data commercialisation; The question of infinite growth; The question of digital colonisation; The question of monopoly; The question of unprecedented power), 2018. Acrylic, oil and spray paint on drywall; 4.7 × 6.1 × 6.3 m. Mural in Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, Woodland Hills, CA. (Submitted by Atelier Nicolas Grenier)

His work has been collected by the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, the Royal Bank of Canada, the National Bank of Canada, and the Progressive Art Collection, among others.

The artist bases his work on research, whether it's a painting or a lecture-performance.

"At the moment, I am particularly involved with research on economic structures, and some of this research will feed my painting practice. But paintings are limited by the problematic economy in which they exist, and I can't ignore that," Grenier says.

He plans to use the income from art sales to finance what he calls a "long-term development of non-monetary economic systems".

"I try to create an ecosystem in which both the artistic and the political dimensions of practice can respond to each other."