The Maria Lassnig Foundation and Serpentine award the 2021 Maria Lassnig Prize to UK-based Ghanaian artist Atta Kwami
The Maria Lassnig Prize is awarded biennially to a mid-career artist in association with an international institutional partner. Atta Kwami is the third artist to be granted the Maria Lassnig Prize, following Cathy Wilkes, in partnership with MoMA PS1 (2017), and Sheela Gowda, in partnership with Lenbachhaus, Munich (2019).
The artist received a major grant of 50,000 euros and a project with Serpentine, the institutional partner for the 2021 Maria Lassnig Prize. Serpentine presented a solo exhibition of Lassnig’s work in 2008. Kwami was selected by a jury comprising Serpentine, the Maria Lassnig Foundation, the former partnering institution Lenbachhaus and the artist Albert Oehlen.
Atta Kwami’s project with Serpentine – a comprehensive monograph publication and a public art commission – will be launched in 2022.
Atta Kwami (b. Accra, 1956 – 2021) was a painter, printmaker, art historian and independent curator based in Loughborough, UK. Kwami was known for paintings, murals and kiosk-sculptures that are conceived as expanded three-dimensional paintings, incorporating his signature use of colour and abstract painting style. His works played with the colour and form improvisations that are distinctive of Ghanaian architecture and African strip-woven textiles, especially kente, made famous by his culture the Ewe and Asante of Ghana.
Kwami was part of the Folkestone Triennial 2020 (postponed to 2021) and before his passing was designing a triptych of large stained-glass windows for the new Ghana National Cathedral in Accra designed by Sir David Adjaye OBE.
Maria Lassnig Prize
The Maria Lassnig Prize was originally envisioned by pioneering Austrian artist Maria Lassnig before her death in 2014 at the age of 94, at height of her artistic career. Having achieved recognition only later in life, she hoped to encourage the efforts of artists not yet familiar to the public. Each prize granted in her name carries an award of 50,000 euros and a project organised by a designated institution that has collaborated with the Foundation and a selection committee to choose a winner. In 2017, the inaugural year Cathy Wilkes was awarded the Prize accompanied by an exhibition at the institutional partner MoMA PS1, New York, in 2019 Sheela Gowda was awarded the Prize and exhibition at Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau München.
Atta Kwami, Loughborough, Autumn 2020: ‘I am proud to be associated with Maria Lassnig’s legacy. Her late recognition requires us to look again at so many artists whose life work has been overlooked or undervalued. Her formidable and wide-ranging body of work shows that she was an individual who pushed herself to her limits, without the critical recognition to guide her on.
The Maria Lassnig Prize 2021 is completely unexpected. I am very happy it has come at this stage of my life. I shall always be humbly grateful for all the people who have supported me; my mother, my wife, my galleries and my friends both inside and outside Ghana. I am glad for myself and for Ghana.’