Praise for Turner jury as prize goes to war protest

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The Independent Culture

It is the country's foremost visual arts prize which never ceases to generate outrage for honouring conceptual works that are accused of bearing little relevance to real life.

But last night, Mark Wallinger won the Turner Prize by delivering a searing attack on the Iraq war with his installation, State Britain. The work, composed of 600 anti-war banners, photographs and placards, meticulously recreates the "peace camp" set up by Brian Haw in Parliament Square.

Picking up the 25,000 prize presented at Tate Liverpool by the actor and art collector Dennis Hopper, Wallinger praised Mr Haw for his campaign and called for an end to occupation in Iraq. "Brian Haw is a remarkable man who has waged a war against the folly and hubris of our government for six-and-a-half years. He is a last dissenting voice. Bring home the troops, give us back our rights, trust the people ... It's important that these freedoms are fought for and preserved," he said.

Mr Haw, who still camps outside Parliament Square and was present at the ceremony, said: "Art can't get more real than State Britain." He said he was not initially convinced by the idea when Wallinger approached him. "I politely told him to 'piss off'. I get so many people coming up to me. But we sat down to chat and I thought that he shared the same heart as I have, he cared for people," said Mr Haw.

He said Wallinger took hundreds of photographs of his 40-metre-wide protest camp, just days before it was dismantled in May last year, under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act prohibiting unauthorised demonstrations within a kilometre radius of Parliament Square.

Faithful in every detail to Mr Haw's peace camp, it reproduces everything from the makeshift tarpaulin shelter and tea-making area to hand-painted placards and teddy bears wearing T-shirts with peace slogans. In bringing a reconstruction of Mr Haw's protest back into the public domain, Wallinger was seen to be raising questions around issues of freedom of expression and the erosion of civil liberties.

It was described as "visceral and historically important" by Tate jurors and commended for putting the "viewer in the emotional field of the loneliness of protest". A Tate statement added that it "combined a bold political statement with art's ability to articulate fundamental human truths".

It will undoubtedly be welcomed by those who have criticised the prize for losing its connection with social reality over the years.

Wallinger, 48, had been the critics' choice on a shortlist that included Mike Nelson, who had previously been nominated for the prize in 2001, and whose work included the recreation of a photographer's darkroom; Nathan Coley, who focused on belief systems, and Zarina Bhimji for her footage dealing with themes of colonial history and immigration.