Married artists Amy Malbeuf and Jordan Bennett had an impromptu celebration earlier this week when they found out they were both included in the Sobey Art Award long list, and would both be receiving $25,000.
“We definitely danced a little bit after we got off the phone,” said Bennett.
They and four other Indigenous artists were among the 25 longlisted nominees for the annual prize given to an artist in Canada under the age of 40.
In the past the long list nominees received $2,000 each, four shortlisted artists were awarded $25,000 each and one winner received $100,000.
This year, the Sobey Foundation and the National Gallery of Canada announced the cancellation of this year’s exhibition, gala and art residency program in favour of giving $25,000 directly to all the artists on the long list.
“I’m really grateful and just so pleased that they made that decision,” said Malbeuf.
“I think it just shows that they have the utmost care for the arts and artists at this time.”
They had both been on the long list for the award previously, and Bennett has also made the short list. The couple, who are expecting a child, said they were shocked when they got the news about the changes to the prize this year.
Malbeuf is Métis from Rich Lake, Alta., but currently lives in Terence Bay, N.S., with Bennett who is Mi’kmaw from Stephenville Crossing, N.L.
Both are full-time artists and have had exhibitions close early or be postponed because of COVID-19.
“It’s all precarious and uncertain at this moment,” said Malbeuf.
Her work is based around ecology, how humans engage with the natural world and how colonization has affected that relationship.
She works in multiple media including performance art and video work and is currently working on a series of wearable art pieces that focus on the importance of home-tanned hides.
“I really see the work that I do as a continuum of the customary and the ancestral art practices that have come before me and that are also happening and being created by other artists now,” she said.
Bennett said he roots his work in Mi’kmaw visual culture, drawing inspiration from contemporary and historical quillwork, work on birch bark, clothing and stone drawings.
He also looks to translate Mi’kmaw stories through painting and sculptural installations.
Bennett is working toward a solo exhibition for Onsite Gallery at OCAD University in Toronto for 2021 that will be a series of paintings and installations.
‘I’m so proud to be in this group’
Tsēmā Igharas is a member of Tahltan First Nation and is based in Vancouver. This is her first time being nominated for the Sobey Art Award and said being included in the long list was unbelievable.
“I’m so proud to be in this group of people and be a part of this decision to spread the love,” she said.
Igharas describes herself as an interdisciplinary artist and said that through her work, she challenges colonial value systems in relation to the land.
“I make artwork about mining and the materials that are coming from Indigenous territories,” she said.
“We all have this relationship with those materials and the territory through touch and consumption. This is where I base my practice.”
She is a founding and contributing member of Tū’dese’chō Wholistic Indigenous Leadership Development (T-WILD), a non-governmental organization and platform for mentorship and cultural revitalization.
There are three more Indigenous artists who received the Sobey Art Award this year.
Asinnajaq is a visual artist and writer from Inukjuak, Que., who wrote Three Thousand (2017) which was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award. She is also the co-creator of the Tillutarniit Inuit Film Festival.
Caroline Monnet is an Algonquin-French contemporary artist and filmmaker from Ottawa-Gatineau whose work has been shown in Canada, the U.S. and through Europe.
Joseph Tisiga is a member of the Kaska Dena Nation whose multi-disciplinary work combines imagery inspired by social and philosophical influences that have shaped his perspective, reflecting a love of new approaches to storytelling.