York alumnus a finalist for prestigious Sobey Art Award

York visual arts alumnus Brendan Fernandes (BFA ‘02) has been shortlisted for the Sobey Art Award, Canada’s pre-eminent prize for contemporary Canadian art.

Established in 2002 by the Sobey Art Foundation, the Sobey Art Award offers a significant cash prize and international cachet. It is given annually through national competition to an artist under the age of 40 for exceptional achievement and commitment to artistic practice, demonstrated through a strong exhibition record and recognition from peers, critics and/or curators.

Left: York alumnus Brendan Fernandes. Photograph by Nat Gorry.

Fernandes, who divides his time between Toronto and New York City, is one of five nominees for the prestigious prize. The shortlist features one artist from each of five designated regions across the country: West Coast, Prairies & The North, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic. A total of $70,000 in prize money is awarded annually – $50,000 to the winner and $5,000 to each of the other four finalists.

Artwork by this year’s finalists is on view until Jan. 4, 2011 at Montreal’s Musée d’art contemporain, which is also the venue for the gala event where the winner will be announced on Monday, Nov. 18.

“It’s a huge honour and privilege to be nominated,” said Fernandes. “The Sobey Award nominees and recipients over the years are artists I’ve looked up to, and to have this level of support from my community is very humbling.”

Fernandes is enthusiastic about what the prize has accomplished in its eight years of existence. “The award itself is a fantastic platform to recognize and disseminate Canadian art on an international scale,” he said. “It’s creating a historical canon or legacy of Canadian talent, and of course, it’s also a big boost for an artist’s career.”

Above: Voo Doo You Doo Speak (2010) by Brendan Fernandes, which brings together tribal rhythms, animated African masks and Dadaist and Voodoo-inspired sound poems. Photograph by Toni Hafkenscheid

Fernandes credits York University with providing a strong foundation for his own success. “I came to York as a drawer and a painter but I was able to learn and explore with professors who challenged me in amazing ways, like sculpture class with Michael Davey, dance with Donna Krasnow, critical theory with Tim Whiten and many more.” he said.

“I lived on campus in Winters and Vanier, and was a don one year. I keep in touch with many of my friends from other programs who have also moved on to successful careers and many of us have collaborated since then.”

Fernandes has been hailed by The Toronto Star as becoming a “brand-name on the Canadian and international art scenes”. Born in Kenya of Indian heritage, he immigrated to Canada in the 1990s. The exploration of cultural identity and authenticity, informed by post-colonialist theory, is a common theme in his work. His works on view in the Sobey exhibition include Neo Primitivism 2 (2007), an installation that puts white African-style masks on deer decoys; the video Slow Kill (2007), which plays National Geographic footage of one animal’s pursuit and kill of another; and Voo Doo You Doo Speak (2010), which brings together tribal rhythms, animated African masks and Dadaist and Voodoo-inspired sound poems.

Above: Fernandes’ Neo Primitivism 2 (2007), an installation that puts white African-style masks on deer decoys. The installation is now on view in the Sobey exhibition. Photograph by Toni Hafkenscheid

After completing his undergraduate degree in visual arts at York, Fernandes earned an MFA from the University of Western Ontario and completed an independent study program at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He has exhibited across Canada and internationally, including shows at the Art Gallery of York University, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Calgary’s Truck Gallery and Eyelevel Gallery in Halifax; the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City, and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; the Third Guangzhou Triennial, China, the Karen Blixen Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark, and the Horland Art Centre in Bergen, Norway; and many more.

Fernandes has participated in numerous residency programs including the Canada Council for the Arts International Residency in Trinidad and Tobago, The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Work Space and Swing Space programs, the Gyeonggi Creation Center Residency at the Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, Korea and the DIVA Artist Residency in Copenhagen. He is currently working on a New Commissions Project awarded through Art in General in New York, which will be exhibited this December, and a solo show for the Station Gallery in Whitby, Ont., for January 2011.