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UK art prize winners launch attack on British government

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London (AFP)

The Turner Prize has stoked controversy again after the joint winners attacked the British government and the rise of far-right politics across the world.

Oscar Murillo, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Helen Cammock and Tai Shani were handed the coveted visual arts award at the Turner Contemporary gallery in the seaside town of Margate on Tuesday night.

The four shortlisted artists sent a plea to the judges to award the prize to them all jointly, explaining they had formed a collective to show solidarity at a time of global "political crisis".

Cammock, whose submission examined women in the civil rights movement in 1960s Northern Ireland, said the four had decided among themselves that they were all winners.

She said after accepting the award they were "all engaged in forms of social or participatory practice", which, taken together, were "incompatible with the competition format".

"Placing in contention the issues in our work would undermine our individual artistic efforts to show a world entangled," she told the audience.

"The issues we each deal with are as inseparable as climate chaos is from capitalism," she said, adding the prize had "sought to expand what it means to be 'British'".

"We find this significant in an era marked by the rise of the right, and the renewal of fascism in an era of the Conservatives' hostile environment that has paradoxically made each of us and many of our friends and family again increasingly unwelcome in Britain."

Shani wore a necklace saying "Tories Out" -- the nickname of the governing Conservatives -- when she appeared on stage to collect the award.

Britain votes in a general election next week, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservatives trying to secure a parliamentary majority to push through its Brexit deal.

The country has been increasingly split since the 2016 referendum, which saw a vote to leave the European Union after nearly 50 years in the fold.

The division, marked by harsh rhetoric and entrenched views on both sides, has become the backdrop to the election, alongside concern about government policies on health, social issues and particularly immigration.

The surprise twist at the Turner came after Canadian writer Margaret Atwood shared the Booker Prize with Britain's Bernadine Evaristo in October, in another first.

The Turner is no stranger to controversy. Over the years, it has courted headlines because of installations including an unmade bed and works made from elephant dung and human hair.

Reaction to this year's decision was mixed, with some criticising judges for failing to make a choice and others applauding the move.

The Guardian newspaper's art critic said it could be "the upset to end them all", suggesting it often made no sense to pit artists against one another.

"Subverting the game is something artists are supposed to do," wrote Adrian Searle.

The Turner Prize is named after the great British land and seascape painter JMW Turner and is designed to promote public interest in contemporary art.

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