Since its inauguration in 1984, the Turner Prize has become the UK’s best-known and most prestigious art prize.

Never shying away from showcasing provocative artworks – notable examples of which include Damien Hirst’s famous formaldehyde-preserved shark, and Tracey Emin’s intimate My Bed – the prize has often courted controversy. But 20 years later, past Turner Prize-nominated artists have gone on to become some of the biggest names in British contemporary art. The prize has also made giant leaps in bringing “challenging” contemporary art and emerging practice to a mainstream audience.

Formerly exhibited solely in London, the Turner Prize is now put on outside the capital every other year. This year, to coincide with its selection as the UK City of Culture 2017, Hull has been chosen to host the exhibition at Ferens Art Gallery.

Each year sees four artists shortlisted for the prize, selected for an “outstanding exhibition or other presentation” in the preceding year. The selected artists are all British, but this criterion is extended to include artists who work primarily in Britain, or who were born in the country but now work elsewhere. Many people see the prize as a bellwether for the current mood of the nation, with nominated artists capturing something of what it means to be British at that moment. Until this year, the prize has been limited to showcasing the work of artists below the age of 50, but this stipulation has been scrapped to acknowledge that artists can achieve breakthrough moments at any stage of their career.

This year’s shortlist includes two artists whose age would previously have disqualified them, and the exhibition is more exemplary of the spectrum of British art practices than ever before. Each of the artists works in a different medium, looking at different themes and ideas, but there are striking similarities across the exhibition, with themes of ethics, representation, identity and otherness pulsing through the show.

Rosalind Nashashibi

Rosalind Nashashibi works in 16mm film to create politically charged works. The analogue medium gives her work a particular liveliness and spontaneity that captures her interest in people. With a documentarian’s eye, Nashashibi captures ordinary people in real situations, but also stages careful interventions to craft her narratives. In the video below, she discusses how, during the filming of one of the works presented in her Turner Prize exhibition, her trip to Gaza was abruptly halted due to the increasing violence, and how important this disruption eventually became to the story the film tells.

Lubaina Himid

Lubaina Himid is interested in the representation of black people in history and in the media. She often takes existing portraiture as her starting point – pictures of black footballers in newspapers, for example, or portraits of black people in William Hogarth’s paintings. In a recent interview with Tate, Himid describes how her work explores themes of belonging: “I’m interested in what it means to belong, and as a result of that I’m interested in expressing how black people have contributed to the cultural landscape in Britain.” Watch the video below to hear her expand on these ideas as she creates a new acrylic-on-newspaper work.

Hurvin Anderson

Hurvin Anderson is a painter who looks at the ordinary activities of black people, set alongside images of civil rights leaders and black heroes. In Hull’s Turner Prize exhibition, his paintings use specific motifs – a boy climbing a tree; a barbershop – to depict the state of living somewhere and thinking of somewhere else. He is interested in the fusion of two different places, and in the video below he talks about how he looks to Vincent van Gogh and William Coldstream for inspiration when depicting this merging of places and identities.

Andrea Büttner

Working primarily in woodcuts and prints, Andrea Büttner uses the medium as a way to capture the physicality of painting or drawing, but in a quickly reproducible way. Her work is concerned with ethical questions about status, in particular looking at shame and poverty. Her Turner Prize exhibition features large-scale images of beggars alongside prints of the abstract smudges created by fingers moving across a smartphone screen. In the video below, Büttner talks about how the motif of the hand is used to emphasise the intimacy of her subject matter and pose her broader philosophical questions.

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