Dunya Contemporary Art Prize

Sophia Al-Maria, The Magical State, 2017. Single-channel video (color, sound); 6 minutes, 14 seconds. Courtesy of the artist and The Third Line, Dubai.
Sophia Al-Maria, Mirror Cookie, 2018. HD-video installation; 7 minutes, 25 seconds (looped). Courtesy of the artist, Anna Lena Films, and Project Native Informant, London.
Sophia Al-Maria, Major Motions, 2018. HD-video installation; 16 seconds (looped). Courtesy of the artist, Anna Lena Films, and Project Native Informant, London.
Sophia Al-Maria, White Man’s Bible (Revenge Porn), 2018. Playboy magazines and iPhone 15 × 8 11/16 × 11 13/16 in. Courtesy of the artist, Anna Lena Films, and Project Native Informant, London.
Installation view, Sophia Al-Maria: Black Friday, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, July 26–October 31, 2016. Photo: Ronald Amstutz.
Sophia Al-Maria, still from The Litany, 2016. Sand, glitter, glass, smartphones, computer screens, tablet computers, and USB cables, with multichannel, looped digital video (color and black-and-white, sound); durations variable. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of the Albert A. Robin estate by exchange, 2017.4. Courtesy of the artist and The Third Line, Dubai.
Sophia Al-Maria, Extradited Bio Blend, 2017. Digital print; 9 7/16 × 16 ½ in. Courtesy of the artist and The Third Line, Dubai.


The MCA is pleased to award the inaugural Dunya Contemporary Art Prize to artist Sophia Al-Maria.

Qatari-American artist, writer, and filmmaker Sophia Al-Maria (b. 1983) has brought her global perspective to the dramatic transformations occurring in the Arabian Gulf over the last several decades. Her work is produced from an emotional starting point, and she uses diverse forms of technology to explore the cultural, social, political, and environmental issues that affect the Gulf region. (She coined the term "Gulf Futurism" to describe social shifts in cities such as Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Doha, Qatar, where unprecedented economic growth is paralleled by social inequality, labor exploitation, and environmental degradation.) Al-Maria also uses technologies to address the isolation of individuals and groups such as the Gulf region's Bedouin community in which her family has roots and which in recent decades has experienced striking changes to its way of life.

Raised in Washington State and Qatar, Al-Maria studied comparative literature at the American University in Cairo and aural and visual cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London. She has exhibited her work in exhibitions and biennials across the world, including Whitechapel Gallery, London (2016); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2016); New Museum, New York (2015); Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, South Korea (2013); and Waqif Art Centre, Doha, Qatar (2007). In 2015, she guest edited issue 8 of The Happy Hypocrite titled "Fresh Hell." Her memoir, The Girl Who Fell to Earth, was published by Harper Perennial in 2012, and her writing has appeared in Harper's Magazine, Five Dials, and Triple Canopy. She currently lives and works in London.

A blonde woman turns over her right shoulder to look directly at the you with her brown eyes.
Sophia Al-Maria. Photo: Laura Cugusi.


About the Prize

The Dunya Contemporary Art Prize is a major biennial contemporary art award presented to a mid-career artist from the Middle East or its diaspora. The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago will award the selected artist a $100,000 prize and a commission for a new work and will present their work in a solo exhibition accompanied by a catalogue. This prize is made possible with the support of the Shulamit Nazarian Foundation.

The name Dunya, meaning world or universe in many languages, reflects the global focus of the award and the shared vision of the MCA and the Shulamit Nazarian Foundation to represent diverse perspectives and bring attention to new and daring voices. The Dunya Contemporary Art Prize focuses on artists who are at a mature stage in their career, when the award can offer a substantial opportunity to advance their artistic practice and recognition. The goal of the prize is to foster contemporary artists from the Middle East whose work is rigorous, challenging, and unconventional, and present them as part of the MCA's acclaimed Ascendant Artist series.

An international jury of experts in the field of contemporary Middle Eastern art selected the first winner of the Dunya Contemporary Art Prize in April 2018.


The Jury

Antonia Carver has been Director of Art Jameel since August 2016.

Clare Davies is Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Michael Darling is the James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

Hans Ulrich Obrist is Artistic Director of the Serpentine Galleries, London.

Omar Kholeif (Jury Chair) is the former Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.


Selection Process

The prize in its current iteration is an invitation-only process with nominations made by experts in the field.

About the Shulamit Nazarian Foundation

The Shulamit Nazarian Foundation supports the rich and varied practices of artists from the Middle East and its diaspora. The Foundation nurtures projects that use the language of contemporary art to bring relevant and striking observations into wider view through ambitious works. Based in Los Angeles, the Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpolitical, and nongovernmental organization that situates artists and their ideas at the heart of its mission. Established by philanthropist Shulamit Nazarian, the organization geographically defines the Middle East broadly as the central node that links Africa, Europe, and Asia.

Shulamit Nazarian has been an art advocate, patron, and gallerist, supporting artists, art education, and the creative community in the United States and abroad for over two decades.