As one of the most inclusive and diverse open submission prizes in London, the Sunny Art Prize offers artists the chance to engage with contemporary issues on an international level. The new 2018 edition of the Sunny Art Prize seeks to broaden debates surrounding art and its relevance to the age we live in to an international audience.
In particular, Krista Svalbonas won the first prize with her work ‘Bayreuth I’, a statement about the historical condition of statelessness that afflicts refugee seekers. Stephen Doyle snatched the second prize with his painting ‘Performing the Feminine II’, a work exploring the issues which face the LGBTQI+ international community today. The third prize winner, Hania Farrell, grabbed the attention of the public with her installation ‘Another Realm’. Hania explored issues that surrounding our relationship with the environment by constructing scenarios that play with the visitor’s physical experience of the artwork. More information on the winning artists and on the stories and issues they engaged through their work can be found here below.
The Sunny Art Prize 2018 exhibition can be viewed at the Sunny Art Centre, London between September 4th-30th. Admission free.
KRISTA SVALBONAS - I WINNER
Krista has a longstanding interest in architecture, particularly urban environments. Her past work has dealt with low-income housing complexes and modernist architectural ideals, and has drawn from ideas by Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Soviet architecture, as well as the phenomenology of space. She is fascinated by the language of spatial relationships and by the effect of architectural forms and structure on the psychology of the human environment.
Her cultural background as an ethnically Latvian/Lithuanian artist informs this interest. Her parents spent several years after the end of World War II in displaced persons (DP) camps in Germany before they were allowed to emigrate to the United States. Their childhood memories of architecture were of temporary structures, appropriated from their other (often military) uses to house tens of thousands of post-war refugees. The artist’s connection to this history has made her acutely aware of the impact of politics on architecture and, in turn, on a people’s daily life experience. Ideas of home and dislocation have always been compelling to Krista as the child of immigrant parents who arrived in the United States as refugees.
In ‘Bayreuth I’ (part of a series), the artist sets out to retrace and re-imagine this history of dislocation. Her family’s displacement is part of a long history of uprooted people for whom the idea of ‘home’ was undermined by political agendas beyond their control. They had always described these housing solutions as temporary; the artist never expected to see these buildings still standing. But after intensive archival research, she was able to locate, visit, and photograph many of the actual buildings on the sites of former DP camps in Germany.
Today, the buildings offer no hint of the tumultuous lives of the post-war refugees who were stuck in a stateless limbo with no idea about what the future might hold. To better understand and honour their struggles, the artist turned to archived copies of the plea letters the Baltic refugees sent to the governments of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Page after page, they beg for food, bedding, and medical supplies and attempt to explain the dire fate that would await them if they were repatriated to the Soviet Union. Krista merges these painful accounts with the photographs of a DP camp building through a process of laser-burning, resulting in an echo of the traumas of war the refugees endured. The words of the letters now form the complete image as a lasered, transparent metal panel superimposed onto the photograph.
Eventually made entirely of lace-like text, the building grows fragile, inseparable from the precarious lives it housed. A composite of the artist’s own experience and the fading memories of her parents and their generation, each of these layered pieces recalls the very contemporary struggle that surrounds present-day refugees. Drawing from personal and familial experience, Krista sheds light on the often unheard, ignored voices of thousands of displaced individuals whose idea of ‘home’ was compromised by political agendas.
STEPHEN DOYLE - II WINNER
Queer identity and queer culture, as well as the representation of sexual identity and orientation through drawing, painting, and installation art, are at the core of Stephen Doyle’s practice. In fact, Doyle has portrayed only LGBTQI+ individuals within his work in an effort to establish a queer identity within contemporary portraiture. His figurative work has thus far led him to the UK, Spain, and Russia in a quest to add the weight of authenticity to his practice by experiencing the realities that his sitters face on a daily basis.
The shortlisted work ‘Performing the Feminine II’ is inspired by the iconic drag ‘ball culture’. In particular, the drag ball scene illuminates themes revolving around race, gender, and sexual orientation within society. Drag balls are competitions that consist of individuals, often drag queens, performing various genders and social groups. The shortlisted mixed media painting is a commentary on the fluidity of gender roles. Doyle’s painting provides a platform for discussion on how an antiquated social structure has limited and reduced gender identity to a fixed, binary status. Through the drag performance represented in ‘Performing the Feminine II’, the exploration and interplay of femininity versus masculinity is put on display. The choice of materials in the painting emphasises such interplay. Metal, wood, hard angles, and solid colours symbolising the ‘male’ are juxtaposed with fabrics, light patterns, and vibrant colours associated with femininity.
One of his recent exhibitions was well-received, as Stephen Fry and Rory O’ Neill (aka Panti Bliss) quoted the show as ‘tragically necessary’ and ‘impressive’. Sean Kissane, the Curator of Exhibitions at the Irish Museum of Modern Art and guest speaker at the opening of his solo exhibition, ‘Alt Masc’, stated, ‘Doyle’s work takes the contemporary concerns of his generation – and using the traditional medium of portraiture has brought it right up to date and made it relevant to all of us’.
By interweaving issues and themes around queer identity and culture through the portrayal of drag culture, Doyle uses an international language to speak about how contemporary society reacts and critically engages with perceptions of identity, its fluidity versus its rock-hard conventions, and the dangers still hidden in corrosive misconceptions.
HANIA FARRELL - III WINNER
Born in Beirut, visual artist Hania Farrell sets out to challenge and expand the medium of photography by creating immersive and multimedia environments. She creates spaces of inner reflection, which are somehow suspended, often sharing a third-space quality. Contemplation is found within the architectural features captured in a photograph, amongst the small crowds populating her group portraits and within the complex intricacies of her photo collages and installations.
Such grey zones, which often seem to act as invisible, intangible, suspended boundaries between each subject’s own self and the other, highlight a rupture in communication between people, while also bringing their commonality to the foreground. Through her artwork – be it two- or three-dimensional – Farrell constructs scenarios that, through physical experience, resonate with the deeper emotions of being human. This triggers a chain of reactions and transports the audience to an uplifting status of innocence, prior to social or political conditioning, yet loaded with memory.
This is particularly apparent in the multimedia installation ‘Another Realm’, which can be viewed as a privileged access point to that inner space of reflection, one that is perhaps more embodied and mystical, offering viewers a peek through the peacefulness of waterfalls. Such lush, natural environment is presented as a sanctuary, a momentary escape from reality that can only be glimpsed at as it remains accessible only through a peephole, creating the illusion of a bridge between two realms.
Farrell is interested in exploring the innate relatability within humankind and, more widely, within the natural realm. Her work seeks to highlight structural commonalities while questioning issues of identity, belief systems, and cultural stereotypes.