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b. 1988, New Zealand

Luke Willis Thompson Biography

Born in 1988 in Auckland, New Zealand, Fijian-New Zealand artist Luke Willis Thomspon lives and works in London. Across film, performance and installation, Thompson's artworks are concerned with social injustice, often in the form of the mistreatment of minority communities and historical trauma.

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Though relatively young, Thompson's deep concern with intimate histories is evident from his early work. For inthisholeonthisislandwhereiam (2012/2014), Thompson invited viewers to travel by taxi to explore the suburban New Zealand house where he lived with his mother. With both participatory and performance elements, the work won the Walters Prize in 2014 and pre-empted his 2015 New Museum Triennial commission, for which Thompson worked with a cast of performers who led visitors to New York City sites charged with histories of racial violence.

Two years later, in early 2016, Thompson presented his installation Sucu Mate/Born Dead (2016) at Hopkinson Mossman in Auckland. For the work, Thompson applied for and was granted custodial rights to a graveyard of a colonial sugar plantation in Fiji, and was permitted to temporarily remove the headstones for circulation as art objects. Sucu Mate/Born Dead comprised of nine of the anonymous monuments; marking the graves of deceased workers and managers, the blankness of the headstones raises issues of cheap, exploitative labour and racial discrimination, while the title of the mobile cemetery refers to the short, difficult and damned fate that awaited the workers from birth. The installation was later shown at the 32nd Bienal de São Paulo in the same year.

In recent years, Thompson has become well known for his portraits that present those affected by racialised policing and employ the language and technology of Andy Warhol's 'Screen Tests'. For example, the silent 16mm black-and-white film Cemetery of Uniforms and Liveries (2016) shows consecutive images of two young Black men wearing white dress shirts against a plain wall. Depicted with near-unmoving frontal gazes, the men are the descendants of women who died from police brutality in London: one is the son of an undocumented Jamaican mature student who was bound and gagged by police during a raid for her deportation and died days later, while the other is the grandson of Dorothy 'Cherry' Groce, whose shooting by police led to the 1985 Brixton riot. None of the officers who were involved in the women's deaths were convicted, reinforcing the sentiment that their lives were less valuable due to their race.

Similarly, Thompson's black-and-white film autoportrait is a silent portrayal of Diamond Reynolds, who was in a car with her partner Philando Castile when he was shot five times by a police officer near St Paul, Minnesota, during a routine traffic stop in 2016. Reynolds live-streamed the shooting's aftermath; this alarming footage came to be viewed several million times and has since been referenced widely by Black Lives Matter activists as evidence of fatal racism. Made during Thompson's time at the Chisenhale Gallery Create Residency, autoportrait acts as an inmate, grief-laden 'sister-image' to Reynold's broadcast, wordlessly commenting on the devastating impact of excessive police violence against Black bodies in America (the officer who shot Castile was acquitted of the crime). The work won the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2018 and in the same year was shortlisted for the Turner Prize.

Examining another unjust and violent death, Thompson's installation Untitled (2012), exhibited at the 5th Auckland Triennial in 2013, consisted of the three garage doors previously owned by a Auckland businessman who stabbed a 15-year-old to death for tagging the doors.

Thompson earned a BFA (2009) and MFA (2010) from Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, and studied at the Städelschule, Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Frankfurt am Main, from 2013 to 2014. Recent solo exhibitions include: Luke Willis Thompson, Adam Art Gallery Te Pātaka Toi, Victoria University of Wellington (2018); autoportrait, Hopkinson Mossman, Auckland (2017); Luke Willis Thompson, Chisenhale Gallery, London (2017); Cemetery of Uniforms and Liveries, Galerie Nagel Draxler, Berlin (2016); Misadventure, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane (2016); and Sucu Mate/Born Dead, Hopkinson Mossman, Auckland (2016).

Elliat Albrecht | Ocula | 2018

Luke Willis Thompson In Ocula Magazine

Nominees Announced for New Zealand’s Walters Prize Ocula News Nominees Announced for New Zealand’s Walters Prize Auckland, 9 April 2020

The works include a 14m-tall rope weaving, remixed footage from WWII, and video of newspapers being bleached.

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Aaron Seeto Ocula Conversation Aaron Seeto By Rachael Vance, Brisbane, Australia

This month the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) in Brisbane, Australia, plays host to the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT8). Renowned as a platform for surveying the vast geographic expanse of Asian and Pacific contemporary art, the triennial continues to uphold a long-term commitment to the region....

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Luke Willis Thompson Ocula Conversation Luke Willis Thompson By Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers, Auckland

Luke Willis Thompson is the winner of this year’s Walters Prize—the prestigious biannual award given to an outstanding work of contemporary New Zealand art. Thompson’s winning piece takes the form of a journey beginning in the exhibition spaces at the Auckland Art Gallery. It is an unusual and remarkable work that was described...

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Anna-Marie White Ocula Conversation Anna-Marie White By Kate Brettkelly-Chalmers, Auckland

Anna-Marie White is Curator at The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū in Nelson, New Zealand and most recently a member of the jury that selected this year’s Walters Prize nominees: Simon Denny, Maddie Leach, Luke Willis Thompson and Kalisolaite ‘Uhila. Named in honour of the New Zealand modernist painter Gordon Walters and...

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Luke Willis Thompson In Related Press

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The 2018 Turner Prize Focuses on Video Art in Political Times Related Press The 2018 Turner Prize Focuses on Video Art in Political Times 3 December 2018, Hyperallergic

The Turner Prize is famously known as the art world's most provocative prize. From Damien Hirst's formaldehyde cows, Tracey Emin's tampon-strewn bed, and Martin Creed's flickering lights, the nominees over the prize's 34-year existence have never failed to elicit fiery newspaper headlines. And this year's contenders have proved no less...

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Turner prize 2018 review – no painting or sculpture, but the best lineup for years Related Press Turner prize 2018 review – no painting or sculpture, but the best lineup for years 24 September 2018, The Guardian

It took me more than half a day to view this year's Turner prize show – almost everything deserves a second look. One of the best and most demanding in the exhibition's history, I also see trouble ahead. All the artists use film and digital imagery. No painting, no sculpture. The exhibition begins with an open, light anteroom with sofas and four...

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Luke Willis Thompson wins Deutsche Börse photography prize Related Press Luke Willis Thompson wins Deutsche Börse photography prize 17 May 2018, The Guardian

The 2018 Deutsche Börse photography prize has been awarded to the New Zealander Luke Willis Thompson for his film installation Autoportrait. Its subject is Diamond Reynolds, a young black American woman who, in July 2016, broadcast live via Facebook the moments after her partner, Philando Castile, was shot dead by a police officer in St...

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Four Turner Prize nominees are announced Related Press Four Turner Prize nominees are announced 26 April 2018, The New York Times

An organization that uses architectural rendering software to uncover human rights abuses and three artists depicting social, racial and political issues in film have been nominated for the Turner Prize, Britain's prestigious contemporary art award, Tate Britain announced on Thursday. The research organization Forensic Architecture, and the...

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Luke Willis Thompson In Video & Audio

Luke Willis Thompson | Turner Prize Nominee 2018 | TateShots Related Video & Audio Luke Willis Thompson | Turner Prize Nominee 2018 | TateShots 28 September 2018, Tate

Luke Willis Thompson works across film, performance, installation and sculpture to tackle traumatic histories of class, racial and social inequality, institutional violence, colonialism and forced migration.

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Forensic Architecture, Naeem Mohaiemen up for Turner art prize Related Video & Audio Forensic Architecture, Naeem Mohaiemen up for Turner art prize 25 September 2018, Al Jazeera

It is the biggest and most controversial competition in the art world - often challenging what can be defined as art. This year, the Turner Prize is all about the creator rather than the creation and features only film, no other form of art.

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