168 Annual Open Exhibition Prize Winners Announced

168 Annual Open Exhibition Prize Winners Announced

 In this article, President of the RWA Fiona Robinson reveals the 168 Annual Open Exhibition prize winners and explains why each piece was selected.  

If there is a theme to the Open this year it is that of complexity.  So many of the works in the exhibition delve into the multiple layers of experience engendered by this extraordinary year. What emerges is a rawness and energy that drew a response from the selectors. The RWA’s 168th Annual Exhibition attracted a record number of submissions: 3566 works by 1830 artists.  The anonymous  two-stage selection was done by three external selectors and five Academicians (list below). With eight selectors the choices are arrived at by consensus. They reflect the considered judgment and experience of a group of individuals who are deeply immersed in contemporary art. The final selection stands out for its authority, passion and authenticity.

This exhibition is a snapshot of a turbulent year, a specific moment in time. The Corona virus, the political turmoil, the Black lives Matter movement and its particular relevance to Bristol, have all impacted the show. How much of the work that directly references Covid 19 will last the test of time remains to be seen but what is important is the power of art to challenge and respond to the now. 



The winner of the Academy Prize was Dinah, an outstanding film by Pierre Niyongira (above). Beautifully shot, it is a powerful and emotive work.  It moves between seventeenth and twenty-first century Bristol contextualising the true story of Dinah, a slave in Bristol in 1687, who described in her own words how she escaped from her ‘mistress’.  The quality of the film-making and the layering of ideas and narrative so effectively made it compelling.



The Second Academy prize went to Jacqueline Alkema for Flower Series Oleander (above). A young woman compressed into a small space stares out uncompromisingly. Her white dress and the flower reference the portrayal of woman as object and historical representations of female confrontation of the male gaze. The freedom and control in the handling of media and surface were impressive.



The Prize for a work by an artist of Black Asian or Ethinc Minority heritage was awarded to Karl Singporewala for Doppel Communion (above), a beautiful interweaving of sculpture, architecture and found object.



Two exquisite drawings, by Kit Yan Chong; The Order in Chaos 019 (above) and The Order in Chaos 020 stood out for their assured use of fluid mark-making to disrupt the order of ruled lines.  They were the recipients of the Works on Paper Prize.



The Watercolour First Prize and the Evolver Feature Prize were awarded to beautifully tender works that tapped into the feelings of vulnerability experienced by many in 2020. Vanessa Clegg’s Insomnia (above), a small triptych of the head of an old woman flanked by two landscapes, is multilayered in its suggestion of memory and loss.



Serena Curmi’s, tiny oil paintings of the head of three women, Bristol Lunatic Asylum, Case Studies 13,14,15 (above), are a poignant reminder of man’s inhumanity and of the powerlessness of the individual.

The quality of submissions for the RWA’s 168th Open was impressive, wide ranging in media and ideas. The exhibition celebrates the strength and diversity of contemporary artistic practice.


Other Prizes

Watercolour 2nd Prize

Letting Go by Ekaterina Adelskaya

Derek Balmer Prize

The Waiting Room by Lidia Lidia

Student Prize

Avy Smedley-Brown It’s a new life tomorrow

People's Choice prize

Samantha Glover Fruit Salad

The People's Choice award was funded by last year's Secret Postcard Auction which was a huge success. Save the date & get involved this year


Zavier Ellis, Artist and Director of Charlie Smith London; Anna McNay Curator and Editor; Isabel Seligman, Bridget Riley Foundation curator at the British Museum.  Academicians: Seyed Edalatpour, Wendy Elia, Ros Ford, Andrew Muñoz and Fiona Robinson.



Submit to the 171st RWA Annual Open Exhibition

About the RWA and the Annual Open Exhibition

168 Annual Open Exhibition

17 April - 9 May 2021

Bristol's Royal Academy presents its 168th Annual Open Exhibition, showcasing some of the most exciting artists from across the country and beyond