Veronica Ryan wins 2022 Turner award for work including tribute to Windrush

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Veronica Ryan, an artist who created the UK’s first permanent artwork to honor the Windrush generation, has won the 2022 Turner Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious awards for the visual arts.

Ryan, 66, becomes the oldest artist to win the award. She has been nominated for the sculpture Windrush, which was unveiled in Hackney, London, last year, as well as her solo exhibition Along a Spectrum on Spike Island, Bristol.

Ryan – who received an OBE last year – was born in Plymouth, Montserrat and came to the UK as a child in the 1950s. He creates sculptural objects and installations using containers, compartments and combinations of natural and manufactured forms to reference themes such as displacement, fragmentation, alienation and loss.

Related: Veronica Ryan is a sensational choice as a Turner Award winner

The jury awarded Ryan the prize for his “personal and poetic way in which he extends the language of sculpture”. They also praised the remarkable change in his use of space, color and scale in both the gallery and civic spaces.

In accepting the award, Ryan thanked his family. “Thank you very much,” he said. “I wear my father’s hat, my father would be so happy that he called me big eyes when I was little. He’s fabulous. Thanks mom and dad. All my family. My family is here. My brothers.

“And to my brothers who didn’t survive. And I’ll call them: Patricia, Josephine, David. They were great people. And I think they’re watching us right now. And they are proud. And I want to thank everyone.

“I have some people who have taken care of me in my career when I was not visible. When I picked up the trash. I have been collecting trash for a number of years. But actually, I think some of the garbage is one of the most important works.

“Thanks to the other artists. It’s a fantastic setup. We’ve all — everyone’s done a fantastic job. I just want to say thank you everyone, it’s wonderful.”

Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Britain and co-chair of the judging panel, said Ryan was ‘a sculptor who takes the language of sculpture and stretches it in new directions’. “He has a long career going back to the 80s and it’s interesting to see that evolution but also this blossoming now,” he added.

Farquharson said the jury was very impressed with the turns Ryan’s work has taken over the past two years and paid tribute to the “subtle poetics” of his work.

“It’s slow-burning work. What becomes apparent is this shifty treatment of the themes of survival, care, and has even used the word trauma. Valuing things, remembering things. It’s about nature and lived experience,” she said.

He spoke about the significance of the award’s return to Liverpool: “It’s really important for the city. With the pandemic, with the economic centres, Liverpool has gone through many social and economic challenges in recent years. Bringing the Turner Award here is a sign of optimism and regeneration.”

The winner of the £25,000 prize was announced by musician Holly Johnson at a ceremony at Liverpool’s St George’s Hall on Wednesday evening. Founded in 1984 and named after the British radical painter JMW Turner, it aims to promote public debate on new developments in contemporary British art.

Ryan’s Windrush commission consisted of three Caribbean fruit sculptures – Custard Apple (Annonaceae), Breadfruit (Moraceae), and Soursop (Annonaceae) – done in bronze and marble. The artist has used seeds as a metaphor for the propagation and spread of viruses and pandemics.

In naming it, the judging panel also praised the “exquisite sensuality and tactility” of Along a Spectrum, which explores ecology, history and dislocation, as well as the psychological impact of the pandemic.

Although the four artists nominated this year belong to different generations and use different media including photography, sculpture, moving image, installation, performance, sound and the spoken word, they are connected by a series of thematic intersections including identity, migration and meaning of place. “They all pushed the boundaries of material exploration by unraveling the intricacies of body, nature and identity,” said the judging panel.

The other shortlisted artists, who each received £10,000, included Ingrid Pollard, who left Guyana for the UK when she was four. Pollard, now 69, has been nominated for her solo exhibition Carbon Slowly Turning at MK Gallery in Milton Keynes. Using primarily photography but also sculpture, film and sound, her work questions our relationship to the natural world and interrogates ideas such as Britishness, race and sexuality.

Heather Phillipson, 44, was nominated for her solo exhibition Rupture No 1: Blowtorching the Bitten Peach at Tate Britain and for The End, her fourth plinth sculpture in Trafalgar Square featuring a dollop of whipped cream topped with a cherry, a drone and a fly. Her practice involves collisions of different materials, media, and gestures in what she calls “quantum thought experiments.”

Canadian artist Sin Wai Kin was nominated for his involvement in the British Art Show 9 and one-man show at Blindspot Gallery at the Frieze art fair in London. They tell stories through performance, moving images, writing and print.

This year was the first time the exhibition and ceremony had returned to Liverpool since 2007, when Tate Liverpool became the first gallery outside London to host it, helping to launch Liverpool’s year as the European Capital of Culture.

Related: “My parents’ trauma is my trauma” – Veronica Ryan on the making of the first monument in Windrush

The 2022 jury members were Irene Aristizábal, Baltic’s Head of Curatorial and Public Practice; Christine Eyene, professor of contemporary art at Liverpool John Moores University; Robert Leckie, director of Spike Island; and Anthony Spira, director of MK Gallery. The judging panel was co-chaired by Farquharson and Helen Legg, director of Tate Liverpool.

Last year’s Turner Prize was awarded to the Array Collective, a group of 11 artists from across the sectarian divide of Northern Ireland. The 2020 Turner Prize has been suspended due to the Covid pandemic.

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