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  • Apr 24, 2018

Sophia Al-Maria Wins MCA Chicago’s First Dunya Contemporary Art Prize

On April 24, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA) announced the launch of the Dunya Contemporary Art Prize, and its inaugural winner, Qatari-American artist Sophia al-Maria. The artist will be awarded USD 100,000 as well as a commission by the MCA for a new work, which will be presented in a major exhibition and included in the accompanying catalogue. 

The Dunya Contemporary Art Prize is a new biennial award recognizing mid-career artists from the Middle East and its diaspora, and is supported by the Los-Angeles-based Shulamit Nazarian Foundation, which is dedicated to facilitating cultural exchange between the Middle East and the West through contemporary art. Dunya is an Arabic term for “world” or “universe,” reflecting the MCA’s aim to expand its scope beyond American art. The prize is an offshoot of the institution’s Global Visions Initiative announced in July 2017, a curatorial and acquisitions program focused on contemporary art of the Middle East, South Asia, Africa and Latin America. 

An international jury of experts on Middle Eastern contemporary art led by MCA’s Manilow senior curator and director of global initiatives, Omar Kholeif, selected Sophia al-Maria as the inaugural winner. The panel included MCA chief curator Michael Darling; Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of London’s Serpentine Galleries; Antonia Carver, director of Middle East contemporary art non-profit Art Jameel; and Clare Davies, assistant curator of Modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Of their decision, the jury stated in a press release: “Al-Maria’s practice illustrates the diversity of ways that artists are working in the 21st century. Her critical insights into contemporary culture, examining histories of science fiction, feminism, and the global socio-political condition, feel more urgent now than ever.”

Raised in Washington state and Qatar, and now based in London, al-Maria uses diverse forms of technology and mediums to explore cultural, social, emotional, political and environmental issues affecting the Gulf region. Her work has been shown around the world, including Whitechapel Gallery, London; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gwangju Biennale; and Waqif Art Centre, Doha. In 2012, Harper Perennial published her memoir, The Girl Who Fell to Earth

Kayo Chang Black is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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