Phoenix Art Museum has named Sama Alshaibi as the recipient of the 2021 Arlene and Morton Scult Artist Award, and she will receive funding to support the creation of new work, which will premiere in a solo exhibition at the museum in fall of 2022.

Sama Alshaibi headshot, 2021. Photo: Zakiriya Gladney

The annual Scult Artist Award presents a significant opportunity for recognition and funding for a mid-career contemporary artist working in Arizona. It is an essential component for PAM’s commitment to support and amplify the work of an established artist who continues to influence the art of the greater Southwest, according to Mark Koenig the interim director of Phoenix Art Museum. 

Eligible candidates for the award must demonstrate artistic excellence and be actively engaged in making and exhibiting new work. They must demonstrate significant growth in their work over their careers and have been residents of Arizona for at least four consecutive years. A panel of qualified jurors, including curators and artists, select the recipient based on work they are currently producing, as well as works created in the past. The award includes a $5,000 prize and a solo exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum in the year following the award.

Sama Alshaibi, Water Bearer II, 2019. Photogravure print and blind embossing with transparent ink relief rolled on Stonehenge white 100% rag paper. Courtesy of the artist.

“Working between photographic imagery, video, and installation, Alshaibi’s projects link themes of dispossession, mobility, peripheries, refuge, ecological entropy, and future and historical imaginings. Her practice interrogates the social codes found in images, texts, and artifacts to question the construction of history and its impact on a speculative future,” states the museum’s press materials.

“Shaped by photography’s historic and outsized role in generating the gendered and flattened representations of Middle Eastern and North African people and their spaces, Alshaibi reframes this legacy by presenting the Arab female figure as a complex site that embodies the physical and psychic realms of the individual and community when resources, land, mobility, and political agency are compromised. She activates her own body as a mobile medium in consideration of those who are violated and uprooted into physical and psychological exile or positioned as unwanted, alien, silenced, and disappeared. Her sculptural objects and installations apply spatial voids to evoke the body’s absence, serving as counter-memorials to war, forced migrations, and diaspora.”

Sama Alshaibi, The Harvest, 2019. Albumen print on Somerset Satin white 100% rag. Courtesy of the artist.

In 2021, Alshaibi was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in photography. Her work has been featured in several biennials, including the Maldives Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale (Italy), the 21st International Art Biennial of Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia, 2020), and the 13th Cairo International Biennale (Egypt, 2019). Her work can be found in several public institutions internationally, including the Center for Creative Photography (Tucson), The Houston Museum of Art, En Foco (N.Y.), and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Tunis.

Born in Basra, Iraq, to an Iraqi father and Palestinian mother, Sama Alshaibi is now based in the United States where she is a professor and co-chair of photography, video and imaging at the University of Arizona. She holds a BA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago and an MFA in Photography, Video, and Media Arts from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Sama Alshaibi, Generation after Generation, 2019. Screenprint mixed media, 10 panels. Courtesy of the artist.

In addition to the Scult Artist Award, Phoenix Art Museum presents the Sally and Richard Lehmann Emerging Artist Awards (Lehmann Emerging Artist Awards), which replaces the former Contemporary Forum Artists’ Grants. The program ensures the Museum’s continued commitment to provide recognition and financial support for emerging, professional, Arizona-based artists. Each recipient receives a $2,000 grant and the opportunity to participate in a group exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum. This year’s recipients are Gloria Martinez-Granados, Chris Vena, and Sam Frésquez and Merryn Omotayo Alaka.

For the 2021 Scult Artist Award and the Lehmann Emerging Artist Awards, Phoenix Art Museum partnered with Artlink, a Phoenix-based arts organization, who hosted the open call and helped promote the awards.