28 October 2021 to 16 January 2022
In 2021, the Zurich Art Prize, awarded annually by Museum Haus Konstruktiv and Zurich Insurance Group Ltd, goes to Sonia Kacem (b. 1985 in Geneva, lives and works in Amsterdam). This Swiss-Tunisian artist is the 14th winner of the prestigious award, which comprises a CHF 80,000 budget for the production of a solo exhibition at Museum Haus Konstruktiv and CHF 20,000 in prize money.
Sonia Kacem’s artwork revolves around her sensitivity towards materials that she extracts from our everyday consumption cycle: These include very different kinds of processed products, sometimes obtained from second-hand or online stores, such as sunblind fabrics, lampshades or medical stockings, but also commercially available substances and commodities like vinyl, paint, wood or clay. The artist uses them to create large-scale sculptural arrangements, in which she plays with our expectations regarding the nature and function of the materials. Striped textiles, for example, are draped and presented in such a way that they acquire a surprising corporeality, whereby Kacem is particularly interested in the transitions from abstraction to figuration and from surface to volume. Her presentations allow manifold associations to be made and they formally refer to various periods in art history. Influences from minimal art are just as evident as those from Italian baroque or Arab-Islamic arts.
In 2019, Sonia Kacem stayed in Cairo on a studio residency. The aim of her research was, among other things, to develop an understanding of Middle Eastern non-figurative art, the function and significance of which differ from those of abstraction in the Western history of modernist art. Back in Amsterdam and over the course of the corona pandemic, Kacem continued her exploration of Cairo remotely. The artist invited an anthropologist, a cartoonist, and an architect with close ties to Egyptian culture to collectively reflect on colors and ornament in relation to Cairo’s built environment.
The Zurich Art Prize jury expressed enthusiasm about Kacem’s transcultural and transdisciplinary examination of geometric abstraction, as it broadens the perspective on the history of constructivist-concrete art, which Museum Haus Konstruktiv has been helping to write for decades. The jury also found the diversity of her sculptural presentations interesting and is curious to see the formal solutions that Kacem will develop for the spaces at Museum Haus Konstruktiv.
Sonia Kacem studied at Haute école d’art et de design (HEAD) in Geneva (2006–2011) and at CCW Graduate School, University of the Arts London. Today, she lives and works in Amsterdam. She has received a number of awards and scholarships, e.g. the Fondation CAB residency in Brussels (2020), the Townhouse residency in Cairo (2019), the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten residency in Amsterdam (2016–2017), the Kiefer Hablitzel Prize in Basel (2015), the Fonds cantonal d’art de Genève residency in New York (2014), the Prix culturel Manor (2014) and a Swiss Art Award in Basel (2013).
Kacem has had several solo exhibitions, including Between the scenes, Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster (2019); Did snow fall on the pyramids?, T293, Rome (2018); Carcasse, Centre culturel Suisse, Paris (2017); Night Shift, Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève (2016); Loulou Replay, Kunstverein Nürnberg (2015); Bermuda Triangle, Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen (2015); and Loulou, MAMCO Genève (2014).
She has also participated in numerous group exhibitions, such as Figures on a Ground, Fondation CAB, Brussels (2020); Delirious, Lustwarande Tilburg (2019); Flatland / Abstractions Narratives #2, Mudam Luxembourg (2017); Stipendium Vordemberge-Gildewart, Kunsthaus CentrePasquArt, Biel (2015); and Time, Oslo 10, Basel (2013).
Sonia Kacem, Between the scenes, Installation view Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster, 2019-2020. Photo: Thorsten Arendt (1) / Sonia Kacem, Loulou, Installation view Mamco, Geneva, 2014. Photo: Annik Wetter (2) / Sonia Kacem, Progress MI 07, Installation view Galerie Gregor Staiger, Zurich, 2011. Photo: Gregor Staiger (3) / Sonia Kacem, winner of Zurich Art Prize 2021. Photo: Gunnar Meier (4)