2021 BSFA Awards: Best Art

A very interesting selection this year for the best Art category in the BSFA Awards, with the shortlisted artworks all being single static images – this has not always been the case; last year’s list included digitised 3D images of several murals, there was an outdoor art piece three years ago, and of course Tessa Farmer’s Wasp Factory sculpture rightly won the award for 2014 (at the 2015 Eastercon).

Glasgow Green Woman
One of the five nominees is "Glasgow Green Woman", a promotional piece for the 2024 Glasgow Worldcon bid by Sunderland-based Iain Clark. A similarly purposed piece won last year's BSFA Award, and Clark was a finalist for the Best Fan Artist Hugo in both of the last two years.
I tend to think of the Green Man legend as more of an English thing, but there are over 100 carvings of Green Men in the mysterious Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh, scene of the denouement of The Da Vinci Code. Clark has depicted the feminine aspect of the Green Man, sampling the scent of a Scottish thistle (which has a sexy wiggle to its stem). I found this a very cheering piece as the spring comes in.
Silhouette of a woman falling
The other four are all covers of books by authors with strong links to Africa. Two of them are collections of stories by Eugen Bacon, born in Tanzania and now based in Australia. The first is this stark silhouette by Kara Walker, possibly the most famous artist on the shortlist this year, with the design credited to Peter Lo (who appears to be different from the Scottish artist of the same name) of Transit Lounge, the publisher of Danged Black Thing. It's clearly very evocative of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests
The second is for Saving Shadows, published by Newcon Press in the UK, image by Italian artist Elena Betti, design credited to Newcon owner Ian Whates (who I replaced as an Arthur C. Clarke Award judge in 2015, and he in turn replaced me the following year). It's an interesting combination of fluids and reflections.
Perhaps the most traditional of the nominees is the cover of Son of the Storm by Nigerian writer Suyi Davies Okungbowa (now in Canada). The art is by Dan Dos Santos, a six-time Hugo finalist and three-time Chesley winner, with design by Lauren Panepinto of the publisher Orbit Books, both Americans. It’s nicely done, with the protagonist staring at us vividly.
Finally, Okungbowa and Bacon are both contributors to this anthology of African speculative fiction, edited by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki. The cover is by Filipina artist Maria Spada (who presumably designed it as well, as unlike the other three book covers, no separate designer is credited and she describes herself as a professional designer). I love the resonance between the traditional African mask and the act of uncovering to find that you really did not know what was behind it.

These are all lovely works, and it’s difficult to choose between them. At first I was a bit underwhelmed by Kara Walker’s silhouette for Danged Black Thing, but as I’ve been writing this I have found my eye drawn to it again and again, so in the end I think I will give it my first preference vote, followed by Maria Spada, Iain Clark, Dan Dos Santos and Elena Betti, probably in that order. But I may change my mind again in the next seven weeks.