One of the most important art prizes in the UK is to be split between its six nominees after the Artes Mundi 9 judging panel said it wanted to acknowledge the “exceptional social and economic upheaval” of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Artes Mundi – the Cardiff-based biennial exhibition that shows political art – will give £10,000 awards to the South African multimedia artist Dineo Seshee Bopape, Puerto Rico’s Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, the Dominican Republic-born artist Firelei Báez, the American photographer Carrie Mae Weems, India’s Prabhakar Pachpute and the Japanese artist Meiro Koizumi.
The usual £40,000 individual prize – the largest visual art prize in Britain – was scrapped by the judging panel, which included curators Elvira Dyangani-Ose, Rachel Kent and Cosmin Costinas.
In a joint statement, the panel said they reached a “collective, unanimous decision” to award the Artes Mundi 9 prize to all six participating artists, whose work they said was “powerfully relevant today”.
A statement read: “Each artist has demonstrated great resilience in overcoming the many global obstacles that Covid-19 has presented. Collectively, the exhibition speaks to their distinctive and powerful voices in ways that are rich, thoughtful and rewarding.”
Nigel Prince, the director of Artes Mundi, who chairs the judging panel, said the decision had been made after hours of debate among the jurors, who wanted to “acknowledge the context in which the artists were working” and, in particular, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The work deals with all sorts of issues that have been accelerated into the social consciousness during the pandemic: privilege and racism and injustices and social inequalities and representation and all of these big issues,” he said.
The award had been well reviewed, with the Guardian’s Adrian Searle picking out Koizumi’s three-channel The Angels of Testimony, which focuses on a man who relives the atrocities he witnessed as a Japanese soldier in China and Okinawa, as the standout work. Searle said it “overwhelms everything else in Artes Mundi”.
Báez’s paintings were described as “great, hectic, explosive things”, and Bopape’s clay and soil drawings were praised, too. Muñoz’s short films show ing Puerto Rico in the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, meanwhile, were described as difficult to follow.
Prince confirmed the extra £20,000 prize money had come from the funds that had been saved by not flying in and hosting artists and judges for the award.
Artes Mundi is the latest British art prize to not name an outright winner.
When the Baltic in Gateshead launched its biennial award for emerging artists in 2016, it confirmed there would be no winner or awards ceremony, with each artist being given a £30,000 commission and a 13-week exhibition.
In 2019, the Turner Prize was awarded to Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani after they appealed to the judges to split it evenly in a “symbolic gesture of cohesion” rather than pick out a definitive winner.
For last year’s cancelled Turner Prize, £10,000 “Turner bursaries” were awarded to deserving artists . It usually offers £25,000 to the winner.
Prince said it was too early to say if the next Artes Mundi, which marks its 20th anniversary, would also be evenly split.