Turner Prize Plus Margate Now Festival Consolidates Seaside Town’s Art Credentials

Margate Now Turner Prize

I’ve watched Margate grow as a cultural hub since the launch of the Turner Contemporary Gallery in 2011. Each time I return to this faded seaside resort, I see progress taking place. It has now turned a corner, and I’m happy to proclaim Margate has become a full-fledged international art destination. 

This is just the start of a beautiful relationship between art and community – PCR

We’ve all heard that Tracey Emin, who was born and educated at the local comprehensive in Margate, has abandoned Shoreditch and taken up residence in Margate. Now, her friend, the Gallerist Carl Freedman has followed suit and launched a first-rate commercial gallery in the town. The gallery opened in May with a show of new work by Billy Childish one of Tracey’s ex-partners and is now launching GOSSAMER, an exhibition curated by the artist Zoe Bedeaux that brings together 22 diverse artists, some well known, some emerging.

This year sees the launch of the Margate Now Festival organised by Dan Chilcott, Jenny Duff and Jo Murray. This continues from 28 September to 12 January 2020 and takes on performances, talks and exhibitions around the town. Margate Now is an ambitious Arts festival guest curated by the actor/collector Russell Tovey which runs parallel to the Turner Prize exhibition, held this year at Turner Contemporary.

‘We Must Cultivate Our Garden-Margate Now Festival

Be sure not to miss ‘We Must Cultivate Our Garden’ curated by Lee Cavaliere. This exhibition has been mounted in the former Art Deco Sunshine Cafe next to Dreamland. It unites former Turner Prize winners and nominees in a rough and ready setting challenging how a contemporary gallery is defined. Until 20th October.


Make sure you visit Dreamland and have a go in the Tina Turner Prize inflatable Karaoke booth, a giant blowup doll of the great American soul singer. I did and had a go at ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero Thunderdome’ along with Russell Tovey and Dan Chilcott.

Of course, this is really all about the Turner Prize circus coming to town and with this responsibility comes public engagement and inclusivity.

This week Turner Contemporary unveiled the coveted Turner Prize exhibition consisting of work by the four artists shortlisted for Turner Prize 2019: Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock, Oscar Murillo and Tai Shani. The winner will be announced on 3 December 2019 at an award ceremony broadcast live on the BBC as the official broadcast partner for the Turner Prize.


This is a sure-fire winner! Abu Hamdan has created an audio-video installation utilising audio-archives for his nominated piece. He presents a sequence of three time-based works stemming from research exploring ‘earwitness’ testimony: evidence heard rather than seen. This research originates from an investigation Abu Hamdan undertook with Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture into the Syrian regime prison of Saydnaya. Abu Hamdan conducted earwitness interviews with six survivors to recall their acoustic memories and solicit testimony about what was happening inside the prison. These interviews had a profound impact on Abu Hamdan’s thought and practice, and he has dedicated this body of work to reflect on, and attempting to express, what those prisoners taught him about the relationship of sound to memory, architecture and language. This is an extraordinary piece, and the text-based screen at the centre of the installation is mesmerising.


Helen Cammock who has previously won the Max Mara Prize for Women presents The Long Note, a film that examines the overlooked role of women in the civil rights movement in Derry, Northern Ireland that began in 1968. Weaving together archive material, original footage and contemporary interviews, The Long Note connects the struggles for civil rights in Northern Ireland to broader class, race and gender struggles globally in the late 1960s. Working in film, performance, printmaking and photography, Cammock explores the complexities of history and how histories are told, incorporating multiple voices and forms of language, while always acknowledging her own identity and voice. Cammock’s presentation also includes two performances, a reading space and a series of screenprints, Shouting in Whispers, which combines her own texts and quotations from sources ranging from the Trinidad-born political activist Claudia Jones to the group Public Enemy.

The video is engaging and something you can dip in and out of.


This was disappointing. I expected to love this display, but instead, I left feeling that the unity between the paintings and sculpture was just not there. Murillo has Incorporated painting, sculptural installation, video and performance into the room. He explores globalisation and capitalism: exchange and movement, migration and community. For Turner Prize 2019, Murillo focuses on the political and socio-economic moment in the UK. A group of papier mâché figures, which represent a mobile and globalised workforce, have travelled to the exhibition by train. These are brought together with two large-scale bodies of un-stretched paintings, surge (social cataracts) and The Institute of Reconciliation, which reflect on ‘social blindness’ and ‘the darkness of the contemporary moment.’ Across Kent, schools are taking part in Murillo’s Frequencies project, an archive of canvases created by school students throughout the world.


This nominee knows something about filling the space with an over-the-top exhibit of Surrealist imagery utilising vibrant colours and shapes. Tai Shani works with performance, film, installation and sculpture. Taking inspiration from various mythologies, histories and fiction, she creates dark and fantastical worlds, which while often disturbing, are full of utopian potential. For Turner Prize 2019, Shani presents a new installation version of DC: Semiramis. This four-year project takes inspiration from Christine de Pizan’s 15th century proto-feminist text The Book of the City of Ladies. With DC, Shani creates a world in which historical events, science fiction and myths combine, building a radical vision of a future world born of an alternative past. DC: Semiramis is made up of twelve chapters, each of which centres around a critical character. All twelve chapters are presented within this installation, activating the theatrical setting via a newly produced video narration.


One of the best-known prizes for the visual arts in the world, the Turner Prize aims to promote public debate around new developments in contemporary British art. Established in 1984, the prize is named after JMW Turner (1775–1851) and aims to promote public interest in contemporary British art. It is awarded to an artist born or based in the UK for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the past twelve months. The Turner Prize award is £40,000 with £25,000 going to the winner and £5,000 each for the other shortlisted artists.

It is the first time that the venue for the Turner Prize, outside of London, has had a direct connection with JMW Turner. Turner Contemporary stands on the site of the artist’s lodging house and enjoys views of the skies that Turner felt were ‘the loveliest in all Europe’. Turner Contemporary is working with partners across Kent to make Turner Prize 2019 an unforgettable moment for audiences from Margate, Kent and beyond. Entry to Turner Prize 2019 is free. Turner Contemporary is a charity, receiving public funding from Kent County Council and Arts Council England.

Rowan Geddis and Fiona Parry curated the Turner Prize this year. The members of the Turner Prize 2019 jury are Alessio Antoniolli, Director, Gasworks & Triangle Network; Elvira Dyangani Ose, Director of The Showroom Gallery and Lecturer in Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths; Victoria Pomery, Director, Turner Contemporary, Margate and Charlie Porter, writer. The jury is chaired by Alex Farquharson, Director of Tate Britain. Next year the prize will return to Tate Britain.

Words: Paul Carter Robinson – All Photos: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2019

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