Max Mara Art Prize for Women Helen Cammock
Before winning the Turner Prize, along with three other finalists, British artist Helen Cammock was awarded the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, receiving an artist’s residency. She has produced works, presented during an exhibition, Che si può fare, at the Collezione Maramotti, in Italy.
When Helen Cammock won the Turner Prize in December 2019, it was with three other nominees, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Tai Shani and Oscar Murillo, and so they equally shared the most prestigious of British contemporary art awards. One of the best endowed too, worth 40,000 pounds. The artists requested to get the collective win themselves, “In the name of commonality, multiplicity and solidarity, in art as in society”: “the political aspects we deal with differ greatly, but for us it would feel problematic if they were pitted against each other,” speaking with one voice, forever marking the history of the Turner Prize (created 35 years ago). Their themes?
The misery of our time, resilience, patriarchy, migrations or the civil rights that they explore in their creations.
Because the multidisciplinary practice of Helen Cammock (50 years old) integrates art as much as music, moving image as much as writing, speaking or drawing, challenging the questions of femininity, of negritude, of poverty and power, the jury of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, chaired by Iwona Blazwick OBE, decided to award her its 7th trophy. Since its launch in 2005, in partnership with the Whitechapel Gallery, Max Mara and the Collezione Maramotti (housed in Reggio Emilia), works from the collection of the creator of the fashion brand, Achille Maramotti. The prize both honors an artist who, based in London, has not yet had the opportunity to exhibit solo. The objective? To support female artists, helping them to develop their potential, during a 6-month residency in Italy. Or in other words, give them the place they deserve in this world of art, long in the hands of men. This is how Emma Hart and Laure Prouvost, among others, launched their careers before Cammock. On site, Helen Cammock took the opportunity to learn classical
singing, studying the history of the 17th century aria. She also traveled, going frantically to Bologna, Florence, Venice, Rome, Palermo and Reggio Emilia, to meet artists, historians, and experts at the head of institutions who shared with her their research and archives, but also migrant and other marginalized communities. These outcasts, she knows them well, as before becoming an artist,she was a social worker in Brighton for 10 years, until she turned 35. Born to an English mother and a Jamaican father, she also herself experienced racism as a child. In a work, Character Building, Cammock takes us on a cinematic tour of the places where she has experimented with her family, examining questions of identity and social hierarchies. On her tour of Italy, she went to collect the voices of women, those who cannot be heard or those buried, who are lost in oblivion. Releasing them to explore more specifically the expression of their lamentations, such was her project. In her work, she examines feelings of mourning, loss and resilience, as so many strategies of survival and resistance. The result is Che si può fare (What can be done), the lament that a forgotten Baroque composer, Barbara Strozzi, delivered in her Arie a una voce, in 1664. And which inspired her the name of her exhibition: after a stop in London in June, at the Whitechapel Gallery, it is on display until March 8, at the Collezione Maramotti, in Reggio Emilia.
Her genius here, is to have subtly mixed in her creations, the stories of these women with 17th century baroque music, composed by other late geniuses. In this polyphonic mix, which commemorates the power of women’s voices, from the Baroque period to the Italy of today, we marvel at this film which delivers her interviews, interspersed with music, with a social activist, a migrant, a Catholic nun and a resistance fighter who fought against the dictatorship. If the audience were captivated by her series of shimmering engravings and her 6-meter-long fresco which, painted by hand, combines the words and images of these women, they were speechless in front of her live performance, where with a jazz trumpeter, the artist performs Strozzi’s score, reviving its legacy with her voice.