The wet, grey streets of East London’s Whitechapel seem worlds away from the rolling hills and leafy surroundings of Italy’s Reggio Emilia. But both the Collezione Maramotti, a central Italian gallery owned by fashion brand Max Mara, and The White Chapel Gallery are teaming up for another year to welcome the Max Mara Art Prize for Women 2023-2024.

Nestled in between Aldgate East underground station and bustling shop fronts, The White Chapel Gallery has been a firm fixture on Whitechapel High Street since 1901, when it opened its doors as one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in London.

Since then, the acclaimed gallery has welcomed a succession of firsts over the past century. In 1939 Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica was displayed on its first and only visit to Britain; in 1958 the first major show in Britain of American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock went on display; and in 1970 and 1971 the first shows of David Hockney, Gilbert & George and Richard Long were staged to great acclaim.

Later exhibits included Frida Khalo in 1993 and Nan Goldin in 2003. While more recently, Theaster Gates took over the space with A Clay Sermon, featuring works in clay by the artist across two decades. It's fair to say that certain magic happens under this hallowed Art Nouveau roof, and for the lucky recipient of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, the Whitechapel Gallery becomes a place to exhibit.

Established in 2005, the award is the only of its kind, offering UK-based emerging women-identifying artists essential time and space, as well as creative and professional support. The prize provides increased visibility and resources for the winner to develop an ambitious new project over a tailored 6-month residency in Italy, which is later exhibited as a major solo exhibition at both the Whitechapel Gallery and Collezione Maramotti.

Artist Emma Talbot took home the award last year and premiered a deeply personal new body of work, The Age/L’Età, which began its tour from London to Reggio Emilia at the gallery in June. Dubbed a “true visionary” by the Evening Standard, The Max Mara Art Prize for Women allowed Emma to reach mass audiences with her work. Laure Prouvost and Helen Cammock are among the many previous winners who, like Talbot, produced some of their best work as a result.

Yesterday evening, the Max Mara Art Prize for Women announced Dominique White as its 9th edition winner. Presented by the founder of cult Instagram page @ablackfashionhistory, this year all five shortlisted artists were women of colour, marking a turning point for the award and industry in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. This also comes after Gilane Tawadros took the helm at the Whitechapel Gallery, becoming one of few women of colour to lead a big UK arts institution, in October.

Dominique is a sculptor and installation artist who lives and works between Marseille and Essex and examines blackness within her creations. Fascinated by the regenerative power of the sea, Dominique’s work references maritime motifs and nautical myths, particularly relevant to the Black Diaspora. Salt, rope, metal, mahogany and other discarded beach materials form her towering thought-provoking installations.

Her winning bid for the prize was a body of work titled Deadweight, which uses ‘deadweight tonnage’– the official term used to calculate how much weight a ship can take before it sinks – as a starting point. The creative will continue her artistic pursuit, bringing in new narratives and cultural layers which will be researched and further developed during her Italian residency.

Dominique’s work is a powerful reflection of the current political climate and deep dive into the black experience, traditionally underrepresented in the art world. We look forward to seeing how she evolves her already exciting offering on a global stage with the help of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women.

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By Augustine Hammond