We are absolutely thrilled that Samra Mayanja has been awarded the Nigel Greenwood Art Prize 2021.
Leeds-based Samra Mayanja describes her film works as seeking to “acknowledge, collect and archive accessible, decentralised and dislocated images of black people and their environments – in an effort to commune disparate voices.” Mayanja studied Economics and went to Leeds Arts University to complete a Foundation in Art & Design in 2017. Since then, Mayanja has exhibited at Signal Film & Media, Barrow-in-Furness and MAMA, Rotterdam, Netherlands. Mayanja has performed at Centre for Live Art Yorkshire (CLAY), Leeds and Kampnagel, Hamburg, Germany.
Judges’ statement Nigel Greenwood Prize 2021
We were immediately taken with, and excited by, the ways in which Samra could use this residency as a way of developing her expansive practice. The Scottish Borders seem like a pretty special place for an artist interested in the spoken word, sound, performance and film to experiment and develop a new body of work.
For this residency, Samra plans to continue her exploration of ‘what moves us and what it is to be moved’. Drawing on texts from Ugandan and world history as well as her experience of worship as a child, she plans to think through faith as a bodily and sonic practice, as a thing with an emotive draw that informs our past and future. We particularly enjoyed the description of her methodology that will include walks, improvisation and trance-like states:
I will travel on foot to the coast, to the hills, to reservoirs and woods to sing in chorus with the elements. Always carrying my research with me in the hope that things that I cannot see are sounded through and around me. I am willing for vocal interruptions, harmonising, silence or silencing to happen between myself and the elements.
The rich linguistic and contextual knowledge Samra brings to her work, through unofficial art routes (she studied Economics at university) and her commitment to a more inclusive, exploratory way of making and talking about art seduced us all. We were also keen to support the practice of an artist working beyond London, and in particular, the burgeoning infrastructure in Leeds and the north east of England.
All the shortlisted artists’ work was outstanding and we were uncomfortable about selecting the work of one artist over another, particularly given the very challenging environment that many artists are currently faced with. We have therefore agreed that an offer be extended to all this year’s shortlisted artists to stay at the cottage in Longformacus and use the adjacent studio to develop their practice.
Jes Fernie, Giles Round, Tai Shani and Amy Sherlock
Jes Fernie’s statement
Having been introduced to Samra Mayanja’s work in recent months, I was so excited to see her name on this fantastic shortlist. I love the way she uses language as a tool to experiment, but more fundamentally, it is her commitment to her project that really struck me. There is a palpable sense that her practice unfolds in multiple different ways, not only through the ‘making of art’ but through the living of a life, as well as the construction of a personal narrative and a cultural trajectory. When considering Samra’s broad, generous and discursive practice, I am reminded of Saidiya Hartman’s approach to writing, researching and thinking: refusing the story that has already been told, making it up if necessary, and constructing new constellations that welcome in alternative voices and stories. I get the feeling that Samra is at the beginning of something very special; we are lucky to be offered a chance to see how this unfolds.
A huge congratulations to all of the nominated artists – Samra Mayanja, Rebecca Chesney, Marianna Simnett and Ann Margreth-Bohl. It was a long, thoughtful and impassioned debate. With each shortlisted artist deserving. A huge thank to our wonderful judges – Jes Fernie, Giles Round, Tai Shani and Amy Sherlock.
As well as reflecting on the winner, the judges felt strongly that each shortlist artist would benefit from time at the studio. The pandemic has exacerbated issues such as time and funds to develop work, affordability and accessibility of studio space and unsustainable work practices. It has also brought terrible new challenges – shows and sales have been cancelled and jobs have been lost. Also most artists have been unable to access any of the government funds due to burdensome red tape and it taking too long to receive funds.
It is something we agree is vitally important and are pleased to do. And we will in future always make the studio available to the shortlist. We look forward to communicating more about this as part of our upcoming 5 year future plans.
Finally, a huge thank you to our brilliant nominators:
Zoé Whitley, Director, Chisenhale Gallery
Sam Thorne, Director, Nottingham Contemporary
Lubaina Himid, artist
Clive Adams, curator
We are so honoured and grateful for their time and support
And a huge and heartfelt thank you to our donors for their gifts small and large and without whom the prize wouldn’t exist