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2020 Driskell Prize Winner:
Jamal D. Cyrus

Headshot of artist Jamal Cyrus

Jamal D. Cyrus is the 2020 recipient of the David C. Driskell Prize in recognition of his contributions to the field of African American art. Awarded annually by the Museum since 2005, the prize demonstrates the High’s ongoing dedication to furthering innovation and research of African American artists and scholars.

Based in Houston, Texas, Cyrus works across media in a conceptual, research-driven practice that interrogates American history within the framework of black political movements, the influence of the African Diaspora, and social struggle. Encompassing object-based to performance art, Cyrus’ work is a form of self-education, aiming to rectify gaps in the understanding of cultural and national heritage.

Cyrus’ work has been featured in more than forty solo and group exhibitions over the past fifteen years and is included in the collections of distinguished institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas. The High presented his work as part of the artist collective Otabenga Jones and Associates in After 1968: Contemporary Artists and the Civil Rights Legacy (2008), a companion exhibition to Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1956–1968.

“Jamal Cyrus’ multifaceted work poses important questions about how American history is recorded and shared,” said Rand Suffolk, Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director of the High. “We are honored to recognize his contributions to African American art and to support his practice and ongoing exploration with the 2020 Driskell Prize.”

The Driskell Prize, named for the renowned African American artist and art scholar, was established by the High in 2005 as the first national award to celebrate an early- or midcareer scholar or artist whose work makes an original and important contribution to the field of African American art or art history. Cyrus will receive the $25,000 cash award and be honored at the sixteenth annual Driskell Prize Dinner at the High on Friday, April 24, at 7 p.m. Proceeds from the dinner support the David C. Driskell African American Art Acquisition Restricted and Endowment funds. Since the prize’s inception, the funds have supported the acquisition of fifty works by African American artists for the High’s collection.

The selection process for the 2020 recipient of the Driskell Prize began with a call for nominations from a national pool of artists, curators, teachers, collectors, and art historians. Cyrus was chosen from among these nominations by review committee members assembled by the High: Richard Powell, professor of art and art history at Duke University; Alvia Wardlaw, director of the University Museum at Texas Southern University; and two High Museum of Art curators, Katherine Jentleson (Merrie and Dan Boone Curator of Folk and Self-Taught Art) and Michael Rooks (Wieland Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art).

Cyrus was born in 1973 in Houston. He graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Houston in 2004 and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008. In 2005, he attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and in 2010, he was an artist-in-residence at Artpace San Antonio.

He has participated in national and international exhibitions, including Direct Message: Art, Language and Power at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2019); The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, which traveled to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (2016); Arresting Patterns, Artspace, New Haven, Connecticut, which traveled to the African American Museum, Philadelphia (2016); two 2013 exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem; and exhibitions at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston (2012); the New Museum, New York (2011); The Kitchen, New York (2009); the Museum of London Docklands, London (2009); and The Office Baroque Gallery, Antwerp (2007). In addition, Cyrus’ work was featured in Day for Night, the 2006 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

As a member of the artist collective Otabenga Jones and Associates, Cyrus has exhibited at the High (2008); Lawndale Art Center, Houston (2014); Project Row Houses, Houston (2014); the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC (2008); the California African American Museum, Los Angeles (2008); the Menil Collection, Houston (2007); and Clementine Gallery, New York (2006). He is represented by Inman Gallery in Houston.

In addition to the Driskell Prize, Cyrus’ awards, grants, and fellowships include the Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Grant (2019), the BMW Art Journey award (2017), the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (2009), the Artadia Houston Award (2006), and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award (2005).


Learn more about the David C. Driskell Prize and other previous winners.

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