On October 25th we heard the news that Ursula Johnon had won the $50,000 Sobey Art Award. This is annually presented award is celebrated as the pre-eminent prize for Canadian artists 40 years of age and under. Started in 2001 by the Nova Scotia-based Sobey Art Foundation, the honour goes to a Canadian artist under the age of 40 who has participated in a public or commercial gallery within 18 months of being nominated. It comes with a significant cheque and the prestige of receiving validation for your work from the established curatorial circles of Canada.
Ursula Johnson is a performance and installation artist of Mi’kmaw First Nation ancestry. She graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design and has participated in over many group and solo exhibitions. Her performances are often place-based and employ cooperative didactic intervention. Johnson’s recent work Mi’kwite’tmn employs various sculptural mediums and performance to create consideration from her audience about aspects of intangible cultural heritage as it pertains to the consumption of traditional knowledge within the context of colonial institutions. Mi’kwite’tmn: Do You Remember (hosted by SMU Art Gallery) is a solo exhibition currently on a Canadian National Tour and selected as a Finalist for the Nova Scotia Masterworks Award. She has presented publicly in lectures, keynote addresses and hosted a number of community forums around topics of ‘Indigenous Self-Determination through Art’ and ‘Environmental Responsibility and Sustainability in Contemporary Indigenous Art Practices’, ‘The History and Impacts of Economics on The Indigenous Object’ as well as ‘Renegotiating Conservation: Revisiting the Roles and Responsibilities of Cultural Institutions in Canada regarding Indigenous Made Objects’
Johnson has been selected as a finalist for the Salt Spring National Art Prize and has twice been long listed for the Sobey Art Award until winning in 2017. The prize’s selection committee, chaired by Josee Drouin-Brisebois, senior curator of contemporary art at the National Gallery of Canada, highlighted Johnson’s “strong voice, her generosity and collaborative spirit.” “Through her work, she redefines traditional materials and re-imagines colonized histories,” the committee said in a statement. Past winners of the Sobey Art Award include Nadia Myre who is currently one of the ACC-CCA board Co-Chairs.