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  • Nov 21, 2022

Divya Mehra Wins Canada’s Top Art Award

Photo of DIVYA MEHRA (center) with (left to right) Bernard Doucet, Jonathan Shaughnessy, Rob Sobey, and Angela Cassie. Courtesy National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. 

Winnipeg-based artist Divya Mehra was named winner of the 2022 Sobey Art Award on November 16 in a ceremony at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC). She received the CAD 100,000 (USD 75,000) cash prize, while the other four finalists—Tyshan Wright, Azza El Siddique, Krystle Silverfox, and Stanley Février—each received CAD 25,000 (USD 18,600).

Born to an Indian immigrant family in Winnipeg, Mehra finished her MFA at Columbia University in 2008. She is known for her wry and witty, yet sharp and analytical works that tackle cultural and political issues across a variety of mediums such as sculpture, drawing, installation, photography, film, and performance. She was previously nominated for the Sobey Art Award in 2017, when the art prize was restricted to Canadian artists under 40, though the age requirement was removed last year.

With her long-time interest in comics, Mehra mentioned how humor is an integral part of her approach as a “point of entry” to discuss issues of colonialism, displacement, racism, and marginalization. This was apparent in her 2020 exhibition “From India to Canada and back to India (There is nothing I can possess which you cannot take away)” at the Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan, which featured a jumping castle created to resemble the iconic Taj Mahal in a color reminiscent of Indian green chutney. The exhibition was also notable for its unintended result when, in 2019, Mehra’s research led her to uncover the provenance of a stone carving of the goddess Annapurna in the museum’s permanent collection, a bequest from lawyer Norman Mackenzie. After her research revealed that the carving was looted by Mackenzie in 1913, the piece was subsequently deaccessioned and repatriated to India in 2021. Mehra responded to the event by placing a sandbag on the plinth where the carving was displayed. A large-scale photograph of this work is included in the Sobey Art Award exhibition, which runs through March 12, 2023 at the NGC, alongside artworks from the rest of the shortlisted artists.

This year’s winner was chosen by a jury of Canadian curators from each of the country’s five regions—the Atlantic Provinces, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies and the North, and the West Coast and Yukon—together with an international juror. Jonathan Shaughnessy, director of curatorial initiatives at NGC who chaired the jury, described Mehra’s work as “resoundingly timely and sophisticated in addressing systems of cultural representation, production, and authority.”

Monice Fernandez is ArtAsiaPacific’s editorial intern.