London-based Emma Hart has been announced the winner of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women 2015-2017. The biennial award – a collaboration between Whitechapel Gallery and  the Italian fashion house Max Mara – was founded in 2005 to support UK-based female artists who have not yet had a solo survey exhibition.

Selected by proposal from a five-strong shortlist including Ruth Ewan, Ana Genovés, Tania Kovats and Phoebe Unwin, Hart receives a bespoke six-month residency in Italy to create a new body of work for her first major solo show. The exhibition will open in 2017 at the Whitechapel Gallery before touring to Collezione Maramotti in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

Hart’s humorous installations combine clay and video to playfully create a personal and cultural commentary that underscores how experiences and emotions are manipulated in the digital realm. The apparently clumsy humour and bravura of her clay objects ground the more sophisticated stimuli of video, photography and sound.

“I am truly delighted to have won this prize. It gives me the time and space to make work in a focused manner that unfortunately normally evades me,” said Hart. “I can concentrate, experiment and fully immerse myself in new ideas and methods. I have also never really left London, so six months in Italy will be the adventure of a lifetime.”

Her winning proposal centres on the subject of family, and research during the residency will explore the systems, ethos and traditions in Italian culture.

From June the artist will divide her time between the cities of Milan, Todi and Faenza where she will gain specialist knowledge of ceramic techniques and learn about the Milan Systems Approach to family therapy, developed by the Italian psychiatrist Mara Selvini Palazzoli.

This year’s jury, chaired by Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick, was composed of Edinburgh Fruitmarket Gallery director Fiona Bradley, Launch Pad founder and collector Sarah Elson, ArtReview’s Helen Sumpter, and artist Alison Wilding.

“It was clear that Emma Hart’s proposal was a deeply personal subject key to her life and work: the power of the family,” said Blazwick.

“The jury were impressed with the depth and breadth of references in Hart’s approach, from the Milan System’s Approach of family psychotherapy to the novels of Elena Ferrante, to the Italian tradition of Maiolica ceramics. The prize and residency in Italy offer Hart a rare chance at an important moment in her career, to enrich and develop a new body of work.”

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