New review: Tracey, Tomma and the Turner conspiracy

// 3 April 2008

Why have so few women won the Turner Prize? Sue Gilbert argues that the award’s youth has not protected it from sexism in the art world

The Turner Prize comes around every year, like Christmas or your dental check-up, depending on your opinion of contemporary art. And every year it provides a field day for a few pig-ignorant journalists. In 2007, the prize was presented in Liverpool, to show a fair-minded lack of London-centredness.

2007’s nominees for the prize certainly seemed more relevant to the awkward times we live in than in some previous years: Zarina Bhimji is a talented and politically aware photographer from Uganda, Nathan Coley creates installations on religious themes, Mike Nelson does obscure things based around a gang who met up in Iraq during the first Gulf War and the winner Mark Wallinger was nominated for his recreation of a protest against the Iraq war which was suppressed by the police in London.

What has all this got to do with feminism? You may well ask, after all the Turner prize was won by a woman in 2006. Tomma Abts was even a painter, which really confused the tabloids. What, a painter? No flashing lights? No cows pickled in formaldehyde? No tents?

No tents. That’s part of the problem. Everybody knows that Damien Hirst won the Turner Prize with cows cut in half and pickled in formaldehyde. Just like everybody knows that Tracey Emin won the Turner prize with her tent, embroidered and appliquéd with the names of all her lovers, right? Sorry, no. Tracey never won.

Read on here

Comments From You

Jennifer // Posted 3 April 2008 at 9:05 am

Ummm…I’m sure the author didn’t mean this to sound racist but…

“A man still won, film maker Steve McQueen. He’s black, so we probably shouldn’t make an issue of it. He doesn’t, in his own work, make an issue of his race and anyway he’s the third non-white man ever to win.”

And anyway he’s the third non-white man to win? Is this meant to be an ironic sentence?

Look, I am *sure* this isn’t meant to sound dismissive, but it reads like the author is implying that the institutional racism that non-white artists face is somehow not as important as the institutional sexism that women face. The fact the a person of colour has only won 3 times is just as bad as a woman only winning 3 times – and both say quite a lot about the attitudes of our society. At least, the paragraph does go on to mention that black women have never won at all…

Anyway, as I said, I am sure this was not the intention, but this paragraph was really jarring shock in what is otherwise a good article.

Sue Gilbert // Posted 3 April 2008 at 6:11 pm

Of course I don’t mean to sound racist! I was trying to explain how men stand a greater chance of winning the Turner Prize than women, by pointing out that the Turner Prize selectors seem to be totally oblivious of their sexism, meanwhile THEY are obviously attempting to avoid the charge of racism.

Jennifer // Posted 4 April 2008 at 8:56 am

Sue –

I didn’t think you meant it like that – I was just saying that that is how it came across in the wording. Your explanation makes it make more sense.

Bea Haut // Posted 18 November 2008 at 9:48 pm

it’s such a relief to have found you. i am shocked and confused that the artists themselves or the turner prize seem unable to discuss the work of the women nominees as in any way relating to feminism, or having any feminist concerns or aspects. to me it seemed to be a very strong flavour. and i can’t help think that the selectors must be aware and deliberate. So why can no one talk about it (feminism) openly.?

is feminism a deeply hidden shame? or is this a deliberate game by the turner prize selectors. Please help!

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