Amar Kanwar: 2014 Recipient of the Leonore Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change
We are thrilled to announce New Delhi-based artist Amar Kanwar as the winner of the 2014 Leonore Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change. Generously supported by Creative Time board member Elizabeth K. Sorensen, this prestigious annual prize is given to artists whose work, like that of Kanwar, provokes awareness of and engagement with critical issues of our time, working to advance the causes of equity and justice. He was selected from a pool of over 250 artists, as we opened the nomination process to recommendations from the public for the first time since its inception in 2009.
Mr. Kanwar, who creates complex films on critical socio-political issues, will use his prize earnings—$25,000—to advance his latest project. Titled The Sovereign Forest, the work comprises a constellation of moving and still images, texts, books, pamphlets, albums, music, objects, seeds, events, and processes, brought together an ambitious attempt to reopen discussion and initiate a creative response to our understanding of crime, politics, human rights, and ecology. Creative Time will share the results of his work in 2015.
He will officially receive the Prize on November 15 at the 2014 Creative Time Summit: Stockholm. A new partnership between Creative Time and The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands will enable Kanwar to convene a select group of thought leaders, policy experts, activists, and others prior to the Summit for a discussion of the issues at the heart of his work and to develop actionable steps and achieve specific outcomes. The artist and other discussion participants will then engage in a dialogue on the Summit stage, sharing the content and results of their meeting.
The Leonore Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change is granted in the spirit of the achievements made possible by Mrs. Annenberg’s generosity, passion for humanitarian causes, and devotion to the public good. It advances Creative Time’s 40-year-long commitment to commissioning and presenting groundbreaking, historically important artwork and fostering a culture of experimentation and change. The Leonore Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change is generously supported by Elizabeth K. Sorensen and the Rosenstiel Foundation.
Born in New Delhi, where he continues to live and work, Amar Kanwar was compelled to make films addressing the violence, abuse of power, and other traumas by two convulsive events of 1984: the mass brutality against Sikhs in Delhi following the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and the toxic gas leak at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, which exposed hundreds of thousands to toxic chemicals and killed many.
Amar explores documentary filmmaking and how its limits might be challenged to create complex narratives. During this process he reveals our own relationship to the politics of power, justice, and ecology. Amar’s recent work The Sovereign Forest (2012 – ) takes on multiple identities, continuously being reincarnated as an art installation, a library, a memorial, a public trial, an open school, an archive, as well as a proposition for a local space that engages with political issues. It attempts to reopen discussion and initiate a creative response to our understandings of crime and politics, human rights and ecology. The project features a video composed of a series of visual “maps” that document the landscape of Odisha, India in minute detail. The Sovereign Forest serves as a memorial to the local land and the lives lost to industrialization, depicting specific territories that are in the process of being acquired by both the government and corporations as proposed industrial sites. Kanwar’s work has consistently emphasized the critical need not only to continuously gather evidence of injustice, but also to present it in diverse ways across multiple audiences and venues.
Kanwar has received numerous awards and honors, including the Edvard Munch Award for Contemporary Art, Norway; an honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from Maine College of Art; the Golden Gate Award of the San Francisco International Film Festival; the Golden Conch, of the Mumbai International Film Festival, and a MacArthur Fellowship in India.
2013 Annenberg Prize Recipients
Laurie Jo Reynolds
Laurie Jo Reynolds, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, is an artist, policy advocate and researcher whose work for the past two decades has countered the media’s demonization of people in prison. Her work takes the form of “Legislative Art,” which participates and intervenes in government systems, with the goal of concrete political change. For the past eight years, Reynolds has focused on Tamms Correctional Center, the notorious supermax prison in southern Illinois designed for sensory deprivation. In 2007, she collaborated with men formerly and currently incarcerated at Tamms, their families and other artists to launch Tamms Year Ten, a volunteer grassroots legislative campaign to reform or close the prison. Due in part to her extraordinary efforts, Tamms supermax—which came to symbolize our increasingly punitive, dehumanizing and counter-productive criminal justice system—was shuttered on January 4, 2013. In addition to relentless lobbying, the campaign featured cultural projects such as Photo Requests from Solitary, which invited men in isolation to request a photograph of anything at all, real or imagined.
The 2012 Annenberg Prize winner is Fernando García-Dory, a Spanish artist, activist, and agroecologist who explores the relationship between contemporary culture and the natural world in his work. He investigates the myriad impacts of post-industrial capitalism upon rural communities and landscapes. Driven by a belief that art must be “proactive, not just reactive action,” García-Dory has become a leader in the field of socially engaged art and a pioneer of a new field connecting art and agroecology. Beginning with his 2004 project, The Shepherd’s School, in the Spanish Pyrenees, García-Dory has engaged one of the world’s most underrepresented and—at a population of an estimated 250 million—widespread communities: pastoralist and nomadic peoples. In 2007, the artist organized a conference that brought together two hundred representatives of nomadic and transhumant pastoralist communities from forty-four different countries. He had first intended the project to serve as a platform for discussion and “mutual recognition” between these groups. It quickly became much more: García-Dory’s gathering resulted in the creation of the World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Pastoralists (WAMIP), a global organization that provides unprecedented representation and advocacy for these communities on an international scale.
Jeanne van Heeswijk
Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk was awarded the Annenberg Prize in 2011 in recognition of her dedication to involving people in the communities where she sees opportunities for making social change. Her projects, which have been exhibited in internationally-renowned biennials in Venice, Busan, Taipei, and Shanghai, are realized through her integration into local communities. For her projects, which she describes as “urban curating,” she becomes an active citizen, and encourages neighbors and community members to participate in all aspects of the projects, from initial planning to a final exhibition or event. For example, she reinvigorated the Afrikaander Market in Rotterdam with the aid of market vendors and others from the neighborhood, and last year, in Moscow, she installed living statues of people marginalized by neoliberal political reforms near Russia’s Ministries of Education, the Interior, Labor, and Social Affairs.
Rick Lowe received the Annenberg Prize in 2010 in honor of Project Row Houses, a project he began in 1993 in Houston’s Northern Third Ward. Moved by the imminent demolition of several blocks of shotgun-style houses in the neighborhood—one of the city’s oldest African American communities—Lowe came up with a plan to preserve the neighborhood’s historic homes and provide essential services for its residents. Project Row Houses has created homes for single mothers and their children, residency spaces for artists to create new work with the local community, health centers, community gardens, and more. Originally occupying a group of twenty-two houses covering one-and-a-half city blocks, Project Row Houses has grown to include over forty renovated properties, containing exhibition spaces, a literary center, a multimedia performance art space, offices, low-income housing, and other amenities. The project exemplifies the principles of renowned artist John Biggers, who spoke about art as a way to create an effective community, as it integrates art into the fabric of everyday life. It is a space for producing and celebrating culture, a model for community revitalization, a forum for education, and a way to preserve the architecture and history of a neighborhood.
The Yes Men
The recipients of the inaugural Annenberg Prize, in 2009, were the Yes Men, the duo that has agreed their way into the fortified compounds of commerce, asked questions, and then smuggled out the stories of their hijinks to provide a public glimpse at the behind-the-scenes world of business. This legendary group of culture jammers is, through their longstanding practice of invading and subverting modes of corporate communication, at the forefront of a movement to produce substantive change in our world. They are well known for projects ranging from impersonating representatives of major corporations to the distribution of thousands of copies of a simulated edition of the New York Times featuring idealistic, progressive headlines.