Why have so few women won the Turner Prize? Sue Gilbert argues that the award’s youth has not protected it from sexism in the art world
The Turner Prize comes around every year, like Christmas or your dental check-up, depending on your opinion of contemporary art. And every year it provides a field day for a few pig-ignorant journalists. In 2007, the prize was presented in Liverpool, to show a fair-minded lack of London-centredness.
2007’s nominees for the prize certainly seemed more relevant to the awkward times we live in than in some previous years: Zarina Bhimji is a talented and politically aware photographer from Uganda, Nathan Coley creates installations on religious themes, Mike Nelson does obscure things based around a gang who met up in Iraq during the first Gulf War and the winner Mark Wallinger was nominated for his recreation of a protest against the Iraq war which was suppressed by the police in London.
What has all this got to do with feminism? You may well ask, after all the Turner prize was won by a woman in 2006. Tomma Abts was even a painter, which really confused the tabloids. What, a painter? No flashing lights? No cows pickled in formaldehyde? No tents?
No tents. That’s part of the problem. Everybody knows that Damien Hirst won the Turner Prize with cows cut in half and pickled in formaldehyde. Just like everybody knows that Tracey Emin won the Turner prize with her tent, embroidered and appliquéd with the names of all her lovers, right? Sorry, no. Tracey never won.