Established in 1984, the Turner Prize is awarded each year to a contemporary artist under 50 living, working or born in Britain, who is judged to have put on the best exhibition of the last 12 months. Previous winners include Gilbert & George, Antony Gormley, Grayson Perry, Jeremy Deller and Damien Hirst. This year’s shortlist showcases artists whose work spans live encounters (Tino Seghal), film (Laure Prouvost), sculpture (David Shrigley), drawing and painting (Lynette Yiadom-Boakye).
Born in London, of Ghanaian origin Yiadom-Boakye is the first black woman to be in contention for the Turner Prize award. She paints portraits of imaginary people, constructing them from memories of encounters with real people and scrapbook gatherings. Each work is completed within a single day – she says she never finds coming back to a work improves it. A writer and poet too, her paintings have a tantalising sense of narrative about them. Yet they are carefully ambiguous – clothing is generic, the setting is hard to discern and even the gender of the subjects is uncertain.
She is nominated for her exhibition Extracts and Verses at Chisenhale Gallery. Yiadom-Boakye’s intriguing paintings appear traditional but are in fact much more innovative. Her portraits of imaginary people use invented pre-histories and raise pertinent questions about how we read pictures in general, particularly with regard to black subjects.