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.
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—led by Omar Kholeif, MCA Manilow Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives—selected the first winner of the Dunya Contemporary Art Prize in April 2018.