The Sobey Art Award is Canada's principal contemporary art award and was created in 2002 by the Sobey Art Foundation. Since its inception, the award and its accompanying exhibition have been organized and administered by the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. This year, 2012, marks the Award's 10th Anniversary in recognizing and celebrating young, unique contemporary artists within Canada.
The Sobey Art Award distributes $70,000 annually to the winners; a prize amount of $50,000 is awarded to a young contemporary artist, with an additional $5,000 going to each of the remaining four finalists. Five artists from each Canadian region are nominated and a winner from each region is chosen before the final winner is named in the fall.
This year, Kwakwaka'wakw artist Sonny Assu has been nominated, among 24 other contemporary artists. Assu's work challenges the perception of Northwest Coast Art and its rigid boundaries by combining traditional materials with Western consumer culture aesthetics. Through his work, he strives to bring to attention both the hidden and the ongoing cultural violence that Canada has toward its Aboriginal people. Assu has been exhibited across Canada in both public and private collections and is included in the National Art Gallery of Canada, Toronto; the Museum of Anthropology,Vancouver; and the Seattle Art Museum, Washington. Most recently, his series of 67 painted elk-hide drums - representing each year of the potlatch ban - along with 136 copper records - one for each year of the Indian Act - have been featured at the Vancouver Art Gallery in the current exhibit Beat Nation.