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Royal College of Art’s Vice-Chancellor Dr Paul Thompson on the Turner Prize 2019

‘This was a powerful statement made by the collective addressing urgent social and political issues. It is right this was recognised by this internationally important Prize – in the name of commonality and solidarity in today’s divisive times.’ 

Dr Paul Thompson, Vice-Chancellor, Royal College of Art

The Turner Prize 2019 has been awarded to all four shortlisted artists as a collective. This includes RCA Contemporary Art Practice Tutor Tai Shani, RCA alumni Oscar Murillo (Painting, 2012) and Helen Cammock (Photography, 2011) who is also Visiting Tutor in RCA Print, and Lawrence Abu Hamdan. Naming more than one winner is unprecedented in the Turner Prize’s 35-year history.

I am thrilled that  RCA Tutor Tai Shani, RCA alumni Oscar Murillo and Helen Cammock, and artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan have been recognised by such a prestigious British cultural accolade. But beyond this, this was a powerful statement made by the collective addressing urgent social and political issues. It is right this was recognised by this internationally important Prize – in the name of commonality and solidarity in today’s divisive times.

The collective’s thought-provoking artworks demonstrate the role art can play in addressing pressing issues within society and introducing new perspectives on our day-to-day lives. This is very close to our hearts at the RCA. 

The decision by the artists and the judges to jointly distribute the Turner Prize is a stand against isolation and exclusion and represents an important moment of solidarity for the arts.

Shani was nominated for her ongoing body of work DC: Semiramis, an adaptation of Christine de Pizan's 1405 pioneering proto-feminist book The Book of the City of Ladies. A beguiling work that uses film, installation and performance to explore contemporary themes and issues through a gothic, science-fiction lens.

Tai Shani
Installation view of DC Semiramis 2019, Turner Prize 2019 at Turner Contemporary, Tai Shani
Photographer: David Levene

Murillo’s contribution to the Turner Prize exhibition included 20 papier-mâché effigies installed in the gallery on church pews. These waiting, life-sized figures are part of an installation exploring themes of labour and migration.

Oscar Murillo
Installation view of Collective Conscience, 2019, Turner Prize 2019 at Turner Contemporary, Oscar Murillo
Photographer: Stephen White

Cammock was shortlisted for her solo exhibition The Long Note (2018) a film about the history and role of women in the civil rights movement in Derry Londonderry in 1968, a period generally acknowledged to be the starting point of the Troubles. 

Helen Cammock
Video still from The Long Note, Helen Cammock 2018
© Courtesy the artist | Photographer: David Levene

Abu Hamdan was selected for his solo exhibition Earwitness Theatre and for the video installation Walled Unwalled. His work investigates crimes that have been heard and not seen and explore the complexity of memory and language as well as the urgency of human rights and advocacy. 

Lawrence Abu Hamdan
After SFX, 2018. Turner Prize 2019, Lawrence Abu Hamdan
Photographer: Stuart Leech

Each of this year’s finalists address urgent social and political causes through their work. Rather than set these issues in competition, the four shortlisted artists came together to request they be jointly awarded the prize, a decision that was honoured by the jury.

In a joint letter to the jury, the artists said: ‘At this time of political crisis in Britain and much of the world, when there is already so much that divides and isolates people and communities, we feel strongly motivated to use the occasion of the Prize to make a collective statement in the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity – in art as in society.’

These values of collaboration and solidarity are something the RCA celebrates, fosters and stands behind in all of our teaching, research and community engagement.


Read more about Shani, Murillo and Cammock’s work.