DUBAI: Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) launched its biennial Dunya Contemporary Art Prize last Monday. The first winner is Qatari-American artist, writer and filmmaker Sophia Al-Maria.
The Dunya prize is presented to a mid-career artist from the Middle East or its diaspora. Its goal, according to a press release, is “to foster contemporary artists from the Middle East whose work is rigorous, challenging and unconventional.”
Al-Maria certainly fits that description. The artist coined the term “Gulf Futurism” to describe her take on the social shifts that have taken place due to dramatic economic growth in the GCC.
Al-Maria told the Chicago Tribune she was “gobsmacked” by the award (and the $100,000 she receives as its winner, along with an exhibition at the MCA and a catalog) and said it could enable her to complete projects that had faltered in the past due to a lack of funding. She also suggested that her focus may now shift from the Gulf to “some of the questions about America that I’ve been thinking about,” as she feels she is “no longer concerned” with Gulf Futurism as a concept.
“My whole life in a way is a project of, I guess, moving away from designated cultural identities and moving it onto some other plane where one can attempt to not be, perhaps, a Middle Eastern artist or an American artist or a Qatari artist and just be someone who is working,” she told the newspaper.
Al-Maria was selected as the recipient of the prize by “an international jury of experts in the field of contemporary Middle Eastern art,” the MCA said. The jury was led by Omar Kholeif, MCA Manilow senior curator and director of global initiatives.
“Al-Maria’s practice illustrates the diversity of ways that artists are working in the twenty-first century,” the jury wrote in a statement. “Her critical insights into contemporary culture, examining histories of science fiction, feminism, and the global socio-political condition, feel more urgent now than ever.”