An artist who grew up in Smithers but now lives in San Francisco has just won a prestigious art award after the guidelines for winning were changed because of COVID-19.
The Sobey Art Award normally gives out a total of $240,000 in prize money, including a top prize of $100,000 for the winner. Each of the four finalists received $25,000, and the other longlisted artists received $2,000 each.
However this year, because the pandemic made selecting and celebrating winners difficult, 25 Canadian artists were awarded $25,000 each.
Tsēmā Igharas (formerly Tamara Skubovius, but has since gotten married and uses her Tahltan name) was one of them.
“I found out that I won this week,” she said. “The surprise was the long list but the shock was from doing things differently than other years, it didn’t really register that it was happening. It set a precedent in the art world and it is a massive gesture from the organization to support 25 artists at this time,” she said.
According to the National Gallery of Canada’s website, The Sobey Art Award is the pre-eminent prize for Canadian artists 40 and under.
Igharas was raised in Smithers and then attended Emily Carr University before obtaining her Masters Degree from OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design) University in Toronto.
Her practice uses Potlatch methodology to create conceptual artwork connecting materials to mine sites and bodies to the land.
Igharas was recently attending an Indigenous artist conference in Sydney Australia when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Canadians home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When I was coming home, I decided not go home to San Fransisco because they were one of the first cities in America to close everything down and I decided to wait it out at my parents’ place in Smithers,” she said.
She is still in Smithers waiting for the borders to open so she can go back home and be reunited with her husband.
Aside from getting quality time with her family, she has been growing a garden and baking bread and is starting to make art again.
“I think I went through a bit of shock. I had to isolate for two weeks because of being over overseas. I’ve been here for more than a month.”
This award and the prize money is coming at a good time for her as Igharas was recently laid off from a job that she had for seven years and all of her projects have been cancelled or delayed.