Last night in Ottawa, the newest winner of the Sobey Award—the nation’s top prize in visual art—was crowned. Winnipeg’s Divya Mehra is the one taking home the top brass for her timely and change-making work surrounding themes of reparations.
It’s probably easiest to label Mehra a conceptual artist, since much of her current practice highlights tracing the chain of ownership on various artworks and challenging their legitimacy. (The CBC reports that, in 2019, Mehra discovered a statue in the vault at Regina’s MacKenzie Art Gallery. Looted from India by the gallery’s namesake in 1913, she orchestrated its return—and then created a new sculptural work to take its place in the Regina gallery.)
Mehra beat out four other artists on this year’s Sobey shortlist—including Halifax’s Tyshan Wright. Wright’s practice focuses on the creation of traditional Jamaican Maroon spiritual ornaments and musical instruments—objects Wright’s ancestors were forbidden from bringing to Canada when they were exiled to Nova Scotia in the 1700s. “During the transatlantic slave trade, Maroons were exiled here to Nova Scotia, and during the exile they were denied these ceremonial instruments. These instruments were very significant to them. It's where they find their peace, their joy. It's where they find their freedom — where they find their god, so to speak. Just to bring these instruments to a place where they were denied them so many years ago is extremely humbling,” Wright told the CBC in a profile this summer.
An art exhibition featuring works by Mehra, Wright and the other shortlisted artists— Krystle Siverfox, Azza El Siddique and Stanley Février—is on view at the National Gallery of Canada until March 12, 2023. Wright and other shortlisted artists took home $25,000 while Mehra received the award’s $100,000 purse.