Art’s power to make a difference in the world was the message of the 2021-22 Salt Spring National Art Prize closing gala, where an exciting and diverse group of artists from across Canada came away with the top prizes Saturday night.
Kriss Munsya, a Belgian Congolese-born artist currently living in Vancouver, walked away with the grand prize for his allegorical photo composition on racism and black male identity called Dream Tonite. Highway Reflection, The Eraser. Munsya was in attendance at the awards gala and appeared to be a little in shock as he took the stage to accept the prize. He confided that he is new to the art world and doesn’t really know how it works, and that he had actually lost friends by using his art to address racism.
However, he asserted art’s powerful abilities.
“Being someone that’s been discriminated against and making art about it makes me kind of an activist, but something people maybe don’t get is . . . being an activist might mean buying art or producing art or making art possible, or organizing an exhibition. So we can all be activists,” Munsya said in his acceptance speech.
Artist Klehwetua Rodney Sayers from Ahswinnis (Port Alberni) had a similar message. His sculptural marriage of Indigenous cultural traditions and hot rod culture (#40 Hot Rod Pink) was juror David Diviney’s award choice.
“Thank you to all the artists . . . who participated. It’s very important that we participate in this endeavour,” Sayers said. “I think the arts are incredibly important, especially in these times.”
Also on the jurors’ awards list were Virginia Morgan of Hazelton, B.C., elected by Judy Andersen for her carving Raven Steals the Sun; Jacqueline Huskisson of Calgary, who earned Ydessa Hendeles’ pick for her multimedia drawing Shock; and Sherry Park, who won over Michelle Jacques with Lunch, an evocative painting of her aging parents.
Connie Kuhns earned the Salt Spring Artist Award for her photo Canadian Farmhouse 1. Although Kuhns was the sole islander to be accepted as a SSNAP finalist this time, she told the audience, “I’m a product of this community, and so thank you very much. I take nothing for granted.”
SSNAP Society chair Janet Halliwell welcomed people from across the nation who were joining the closing gala at Mahon Hall either in person or by livestream — the first time this was done in the four biennial SSNAP exhibitions held so far. SSNAP People’s Choice Awards voting was also opened up to a national audience, who could vote online.
“Since it was created in 2015, SSNAP has grown in its engagement of artists, its engagement of the local community. It’s grown particularly in its reach across Canada,” Halliwell said, adding the companion Parallel Art Show has seen Gulf Islands artists expand their reach as well. “In these shows we see artists looking at the world, looking at their place in the world, looking at their relationships; often reflecting on the pandemic and often on issues of reconciliation. And these are not simply exhibitions to be viewed passively. We are determined to engage all our visitors in thinking about art, in discussing art.”
This year’s show marked the first time that jurors’ awards were given to the Parallel Art Show (PAS) artists, along with people’s choice awards. The Matt Steffich Jurors’ Choice Award went to Liljana Mead Martin for her remarkable sculpture The Listener, with honourable mentions awarded to Anna Gustafson and Susan Benson. Benson also received the top People’s Choice Award at the PAS show for her moving installation The Meaning of Symbols, The Meaning of Memories.
Benson said she appreciated being recognized as an older artist. She additionally announced her intention to support younger women in the arts, putting her prize money toward a fund she is establishing so women can access art supplies.
PAS viewers additionally selected work by Garry Kaye and Peter McFarlane as their second and third top choices.
While the SSNAP exhibition is now closed on Salt Spring, people can view all the winning artworks again. In early 2022, they will be exhibited first by the Victoria Arts Council and then at the Pendulum Gallery in Vancouver.
All the SSNAP and PAS artworks and the full list of winners, including the SSNAP People’s Choice and Youth Choice awards, can be viewed online at www.saltspringartprize.ca.