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Absa L'Atelier 2017 Top 10 Finalists

Posted on September 14, 2017.

Kenya's Maral Bolouri was the overall award of the 2017 Absa L'Atelier competition for her multi-sensory, interactive installation Mothers and Others exploring representation of women in African proverbs. She receives a six-month residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris, return airfare, R225 000 cash for the residency and a solo exhibition at the Absa Gallery.

The Gerard Sekoto Award went to Banele Khoza who receives a three-month residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris, return airfare, stipend and a travelling exhibition in South Africa upon return.

The three Merit Award winners are: Priscilla Kennedy (Ghana), Wilhelmina Nell (South Africa) and Manyatsa Monyamane (South Africa).

Maral Bolouri (Kenya) - Overall Winner
Six-month residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris, return airfare, R225 000 cash for the residency and a solo exhibition at the Absa Gallery.

Maral Bolouri
Mothers and Others, Installation, 153 x 123 x 123cm

Mothers and Others investigates representations of women in African oral traditions. This multi-sensory, interactive installation explores the power of proverbs by juxtaposing negative and positive depictions of women in cultural truisms. These adages overwhelmingly portray women as helpless imbeciles, except for when the sayings espouse women’s reproductive potential as mothers.

Through three metaphorical structures, Mothers and Others draws the audience's attention to the negative and positive proverbs, as well as to the proverbs we have yet to imagine. In one structure, handmade iron cowbells, representing the objectification of women and bearing examples of negative proverbs, hang from a giant stool.

Underneath, a small altar holds the few positive proverbs about women, related almost exclusively to motherhood, surrounded by extinguished candles. The third - a blank board - invites the audience to contribute their own proverbs. The artist encourages the audience to interact with each structure.  

Through the use of silhouette cut-outs of family members and other props in a diorama, the film confronts the conflicting stories which are told in multiple ways - memory combined with fantasy. Such archives do not reveal easy answers, for me, they reveal that time can break apart and reconnect and not quite fit back into one another.

Banele Khoza (South Africa) - Gerard Sekoto Award
Three-month residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts in Paris, return airfare, stipend and a travelling exhibition in South Africa upon return.

Banele Khoza
Note Making, Digital drawings printed with an inkjet printer, 172 x 153 cm, Multiple parts

Traditionally, note making has been done with pen on paper. With the development of technology the process is steadily changing – over the past years I have owned a tablet that responds to a stylus and has enabled note making that resembles traditional tools. The tablet enables one to sketch at any time of the day, and declutters the working space.

Within the notes, I question representations of what it is to be a male in South Africa and also in a broader context. Male nudity and vulnerability is still something that isn't vastly portrayed in media today and, with this body of work, I have allowed myself to be vulnerable by expressing my thoughts and feelings, which are easily decipherable to a patient eye. The gaze shifts to the male body and raises issues around heteronormative representations of masculinity in portraiture.

Priscilla Kennedy (Ghana) - Merit Award
Three-month art residency at the Bag Factory in Johannesburg, South Africa

Priscilla Kennedy
Untitled, Fabric, 117 x 118 cm

This body of work depicts an embroidered female figure in pink underwear on a forest green keffiyeh (scarf), trying to hold both hands at her back – this may seem impossible but she still tries. This takes a jab at the social stereotype that women are tools of seduction.

There is this kind of sacredness that the piece may seem to profane but it's not only the profanity that the work portrays but also the sacredness of this particular headdress. With the kind of iconography and paradox that comes into the work, it's literally giving women visibility through both the work's medium and its artistic technique, considering the contradictive nature of both materials. This work of art renders a two dimensional view; the front which may be perceived as accomplished and the back that looks loose.

Wilhelmina Nell (South Africa) - Merit Award
Two-month art residency at the Sylt Foundation, on the island of Sylt in Germany

Wilhelmina Nell
No evidence of a Struggle, Bronze, wax paper and wood, 7 x 16 x 19 cm

Growing up, I was told that the crust of a loaf of bread contained the most nutrients and as such it is very important to always eat it, should I wish to grow up healthy. This seemed reasonable since it matched up with all the other life lessons I was being taught, which emphasised the importance of hard work and good behaviour, no matter how unpleasant it may be. I was assured that diligent behaviour was the key to a happy and successful future.

As such, the discarded lunchbox – filled with untouched crusts – became a sickening symbol of sloth. It is the mark of a person unwilling to be proactive in their success, in a world where I was told good deeds and actions always yield good results and misfortune is brought on through one's own faults.

Manyatsa Monyamane (South Africa) - Merit Award
One-month art residency with the Ampersand Foundation in New York, USA

Manyatsa Monyamane
Koko Meikie, Photography, 73 x 53 cm

When does a trend begin? Who defines the boundaries and measures of style? Who claims the prize of being the originator of the current most acceptable standard of contemporary beauty?

It would be superfluous of us if we were to continue borrowing our grandparents’ rags without acknowledging their primary influence in what we consider fashionable identities today. This project thus focuses on capturing the essence of timeless beauty and style of the youth of the 70s and earlier, looking at how they define themselves 50 years later. Are they as stylish today as they were when they were teenagers fighting an oppressive system?

My argument: yes, indeed! They walk tall and don’t bat an eye to a fleeting trend; rooted in their authenticity, unmoved by the fickle mainstream, no longer an image of helpless wrinkled hands reaching out for life, but instead a movement of powerful voices reclaiming their spaces.

Bright Ackwerh (Ghana) - Top 10

Bright Ackwerh
Selfication, Digital print on acrylic coated paper, 71 x 95 cm

Nelson Mandela is undoubtedly one of the most recognised leaders the world has ever known. His exemplary leadership in African politics cannot be overstated and it is for this reason and more that several world leaders graced his funeral ceremony when he passed on. It was bizarre, however, that the then President of America and Prime Minister of Britain, together with the Prime Minister of Denmark, were seen busily focussed on their selfie-taking games while Mandela was being eulogised.

In my painting – which seeks to question the position of Africa in global politics – Michelle Obama comforts a saddened Mandela, who is shocked by the gross disregard, as she was the one who ended that 'selfication' on the fateful day. Robert Mugabe sits and watches, unperturbed? Cynically smiling? Perhaps because, all through their lifetime, he was portrayed as the opposite of Mandela?

Ciara Struwig (South Africa) - Top 10

Ciara Struwig
Evidence, Installation, 200 x 137 x 57 cm

Evidence represents the aim to collect, document and analyse the trace residues that remain in the aftermath of artistic production. From a post-anthropocentric view, all objects hold equal value and interpretability, and the project demonstrates the value of the artistic process.

Part of this process is a compulsion for observation and self-observation, and this became a key point for each artist as they selected and collected their submission.

This installation is the cumulative archive of The Evidence Project, a collection of physical evidence that has formed as the result of conceptualising and making artwork. 111 artists worldwide contributed samples. The individual characteristics of the evidence allows for the association with a specific artist’s works and, potentially, a specific individual work.

The ‘forensic’ documentation of each submission has been catalogued in the form of a book. The presentation, on laboratory furniture, references a workstation where evidence is documented.

Dale Lawrence (South Africa) - Top 10

Dale Lawrence
Making Work, Linocut on paper (Zerkall Litho VI 403), 90 x 90 cm

This artwork is digitally designed, hand-carved and produced through a traditional, physical process. This seems counterintuitive, as digital processes normally follow the physical to improve productivity. This makes the artist conscious of how new technologies are meant to reduce demands on our time, but often have the opposite effect.

As Marshall McLuhan said: "We shape our tools and then our tools shape us." Do my extra efforts add value to the final work? Is the labour involved somehow different to what goes into mundane, everyday tasks? Is it possible that the effort was unnecessary and that that gives the work a nostalgic or ironic value? Is it the ability to own something created with care that seems rare nowadays? Or perhaps it is the embedded message that I am a hard worker that a potential owner aligns themselves to, effectively broadcasting this to friends and guests as a statement about themselves?

Elias Njora (Kenya) - Top 10

Elias Njora
Foot Prints 4, Mixed media on canvas, 140 x 180 cm

In this body of work I explore how everyday human activity alters the appearance of physical spaces within which these activities are carried out. The interaction of people with their surroundings leaves behind marks that alter the appearance of these spaces over time.

The resultant aesthetic is often a testament of time and histories, leaving us with hints of activities or the nature of people who may have used these spaces over time. Drawing inspiration from Nairobi, I interpret these marks/footprints as a collage of everyday human activity that takes place in the city. The process entails creating layers from photographs and paint, producing mixed media surfaces. The layers and marks represent the Foot Prints left behind.

Oliver Mayhew (South Africa) - Top 10

Oliver Mayhew
Receipt Poem: Shop right, Installation with sound, 200 x 200 x 200 cm

This is a two-part poem: The first part is a practical realism, the second part is a segregated commercialism.

Part one: big TEETH colgate t/p
- R11.99; pln DOughNuT 70g
- R4.99; SEa harvest f/cakEs 300g
- R28.99; PrOVta m/grain 250g
- R21.99; glEn Rooibos TEA bg
- R13.99;
total - R81.85;
vat - R12.34.


The Top 100 best artworks from the 2017 Absa L'Atelier at the official L'Atelier exhibition runs from 14 September - 27 October 2017 at the Absa Gallery in Johannesburg.

Images and text courtesy of Absa.

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