Thea Canlas Selected as Semifinalist for Prestigious Sondheim Art Prize

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Artist Thea Canlas in the studio working on one of the artworks in her ongoing series, Value Studies. (Photo by David Sloan / courtesy Thea Canlas)

By Perrin Grauer

Posted on March 14, 2024 | Updated March 14, 2024, 10:26am

The artist and ECU alum was nominated for an ongoing series titled Value Studies, which she developed during her MFA at Emily Carr.

Artist and ECU alum Thea Canlas (MFA 2023) is one of 18 semifinalists for the prestigious Janet & Walter Sondheim Art Prize.

In addition to a no-strings-attached $30,000 cash prize for one grand finalist, a shortlist of three finalists will receive an exhibition at Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.

“I was honoured to be nominated,” Thea relays via video chat from Baltimore. “I’ve wanted to apply for a long time and have seen the finalist exhibitions every year. It's the first time I was brave enough to apply. So, I was very surprised and honoured.”

Semifinalists receive an exhibition during Artscape, billed as the largest free outdoor arts festival in the United States. The Sondheim Prize is awarded annually by the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts in partnership with the Walters Art Museum and supported by the Maryland State Arts Council.

Thea’s submission for the prize was drawn from an ongoing body of work she developed throughout her studies in the Low-Residency MFA program at Emily Carr. Titled Value Studies, the series explores “the entanglements of globalized economies, racial capitalism, post-colonial statecraft, and the curation of cultural value through the lens of Filipino (trans)national identity.”

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(Top): Thea Canlas, Value Study: Uniform, 2023. Machine-embroidered piña cloth, white sand, sugar, pearls, and human teeth. Installation view as part of A Distant Presence, exhibited at Emily Carr University in July, 2023. | (Bottom): From Thea Canlas' Export Quality, 2023. Wood, plastic rattan, and human hair. (Photos by David Sloan / courtesy Thea Canlas)

Thea says her identity as a mother is also central to her practice. Having met the challenge of working in Baltimore to help support her family while raising a child during her MFA studies adds to her pride in her Sondheim recognition.

“Being more upfront about our parental identity was really important to us,” Thea says of her MFA cohort, many of whom are working parents like her.

Value Studies unfolds across mediums including textiles, photography, sculpture and installation. Thea says this multidisciplinary approach reflects the rhythms of her studio practice, which swings back and forth through research, experimentation and documentation.

“I try to centre whatever question or context or inquiry I want to explore,” she says. “I leave it open in terms of how the work takes shape.”

Her contribution to a recent group exhibition titled figure at Touchstone Gallery in Washington, DC, showcased her thoughtful approach to material expression.

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(Top): Thea Canlas, Flag Studies, 2023. Machine-embroidered Philippine textiles and dye-sublimation printed satin. Installation view as part of A Distant Presence, exhibited at Emily Carr University in July, 2023. | (Bottom): Thea Canlas, Still Life: Longing, 2023. Commercial refrigerator containing goods purchased at Baltimore H-Mart (rambutan, bangus, green papaya, jackfruit, can of corned beef, can of Tocino Spam, banana heart, mangoes, calabaza, eggplants, sugar canes, ampalaya, and banana leaves). (Photos by David Sloan / courtesy Thea Canlas)

The Value Studies series is beginning to grow in scope and ambition now that Thea no longer has to bring the work cross-continent for her MFA. She notes she’s starting to work with structural elements, including bamboo scaffolding.

“I have some much bigger ideas now that I’m not constrained by what I can bring to Vancouver,” she says.

Finalists for the Sondheim Prize will be announced later this month.

Visit Thea’s website and follow her on Instagram to keep up with her practice.

Visit ECU online to learn more about studying in the Master of Fine Arts program at Emily Carr.

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