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Turner Prize awarded to transgender artist for the first time

The British sculptor’s selection by the Turner Prize jury has made history
The British sculptor’s selection by the Turner Prize jury has made history - Victor Frankowski/Shutterstock

The Turner Prize has named its first transgender winner.

Jesse Darling has been handed the £25,000 prize for work which included metal tracks bent into the shape of a woolly mammoth.

The British sculptor’s selection by the Turner Prize jury has made history, with the artist becoming its first transgender winner since the competition began in 1984.

Darling goes by “he/him” pronouns, and in past interviews has stated his identity as “a white European assigned female at birth”.

The Berlin-based artist had been selected among three other nominees for the Turner Prize for work which the jury stated evoked “the vulnerability of the human body and the precariousness of power structures”.

Following Darling’s nomination in early 2023, the prize jury announced it “was struck by Darling’s ability to manipulate materials in ways that skillfully express the messy reality of life”.

The Oxford-born artist’s nomination was based on the merits of two exhibitions, No Medals No Ribbons, and Enclosures.

No Medals No Ribbons, held at Modern Art Oxford, boasted an installation featuring steel roller coaster tracks bent into the skeleton form of a woolly mammoth, and was billed as a show which “questions dominant narratives about the world”.

Enclosures, held at the Camden Art Centre, was said by Darling to be focused on the “unspeakable violence in the privatisation of literally everything the UK”.

Darling goes by 'he/him' pronouns, and in past interviews has stated his identity as 'a white European assigned female at birth'
Darling goes by 'he/him' pronouns, and in past interviews has stated his identity as 'a white European assigned female at birth' - Victor Frankowski/Shutterstock

This show included a piece formed in part by bricks arranged on the floor, positioned next to decorated hammers, CCTV cameras, police body armour, and barbed wire.

Darling’s triumph was announced by the Turner jury, whose chairman is Tate Britain’s director Alex Farquharson, at the Towner gallery in Eastbourne.

In 2021, Black Obsidian Sound System were nominated for the prize, and were described at the time as a collective of queer, trans and non-binary artists.

The following year, Sin Wai Kin became the first non-binary artist nominated for the Turner Prize, but it is understood there has never been a transgender winner.

No Medals No Ribbons, held at Modern Art Oxford, boasts an installation featuring steel roller coaster tracks bent into the skeleton form of a woolly mammoth
No Medals No Ribbons, held at Modern Art Oxford, boasts an installation featuring steel roller coaster tracks bent into the skeleton form of a woolly mammoth

Darling saw off competition from fellow shortlisted artist Ghislaine Leung, whose installation titled Fountains included “baby monitors, child safety gates, inflatable structures, toys, and water fountains”.

Barbara Walker was shortlisted for her presentation titled Burden of Proof, which the Turner Prize said “interrogates past and present issues of racial identity, exclusion and power”.

Rory Pilgrim had been nominated for the performance piece RAFTS, which played live at Cadogan Hall.

Mr Farquharson had hailed the shortlisted artists for their ability to “explore the contrasts and contradictions of life, combining conceptual and political concerns with warmth, playfulness, sincerity and tenderness”.

Critics largely found the work to be less provocative than that of previously shortlisted artists nominated in the prize’s controversial 30-year history.

Previous winners have included Damien Hirst for a pair of cut-up cows in formaldehyde, and Martin Creed for an empty room in which the lights went on and off, a concept reflected in the piece’s title “Work No. 227: The Lights Going On and Off”.

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