The Rt. Hon. Carwyn Jones, First Minister for Wales announced Theaster Gates as the winner of the biannual award, with a prize sum of £40,000, at a ceremony held at National Museum Cardiff.
Theaster Gates upon accepting the award decided to split the prize amongst his fellow shortlisted artists.
Gates’s multi-faceted practice encompasses social activism, urban regeneration and community development in economically-deprived areas of South Side Chicago, St Louis and Omaha. Known widely as The Poster Boy for Socially Engaged Art, Gates work has revolutionised contemporary art with what The New York Times has called his ‘circular economy’, in which Gates funds urban renewal through the sale of his artwork.
Gates’s winning installation, entitled When We Believe (2014), seeks to challenge a Western-centric ideology of Christianity that marginalises other religious traditions. The work takes form as a series of symbolic objects that have been used as vehicles for religious transcendence in diverse cultures across the globe. These include a Malines Boli, or bull sculpture, used to deter bad spirits and protect crops in Africa; a revolving, early 20th-Century goat riding tricycle used in American Masonic initiation ceremonies; slates from the roof of Chicago’s demolished St. Laurence church, a local landmark of white catholic and black protestant tensions; and a video of Billy Sings Amazing Grace, featuring the soul singer, Billy Forston, and Gates’s gospel ensemble, The Black Monks of Mississippi. Each object is linked by a shared focus on the relationship between spirituality and labour.
Karen Mackinnon, Artes Mundi director said, “We are delighted to announce Theaster Gates as the winner of Artes Mundi 6. In these difficult social-political times, art that engages with social concerns offers meaning to our lives; it challenges, comforts, teaches and resists. All the shortlisted artists have produced outstanding exhibitions, but for this year’s judging panel Gate’s practice stood out for his ability to be not just an artist but an urbanist, a facilitator and a curator. Congratulations Theaster!”
JJ Charlesworth, Artes Mundi 6 Judging Chair said, “For the judges, this year’s shortlisted artists all demonstrate art’s ability to reflect on and engage with most pressing questions of human life today. They all succeed in that task, but among them, Theaster’s work stood out for its inspiring combination of historical research, visual art, performance and activism. We are pleased to announce him as the winner of Artes Mundi 6”
Theaster Gate’s winning piece alongside the other shortlisted works are on display at National Museum Cardiff, Chapter and Ffotogallery, Penarth, until 22nd February.