Absa, in partnership with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA), has announced the four category winners of the prestigious 2021 edition of the Absa L’Atelier at an online event hosted on the Absa Art Hotspot.
Finalists emerged from Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Mauritius, Nigeria, Seychelles, Tanzania, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya and Namibia; and one Ambassador per group was chosen from the three groups of African countries.
They were Nigerian-born Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, Adelheid von Maltitz from South Africa and Blebo Michael Jackson from Ghana, while the winner Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto category was Abongile Sidzumo.
These winning artists now take on the title of Absa L’Atelier Ambassador 2021 received trophies that depict hands, symbolising the physical manifestation of creation, designed, and produced by established South African artist Roberto Vacarro, while the Gerard Sekoto trophy depicts a bull, representing prosperity and resilience.
Since its inception 35 years ago, Absa L’Atelier has showcased, and continues to invest in some of Africa’s finest young artists between the ages of 21 to 40.
This year, the competition established itself as the first African art competition to be hosted completely virtually; from entry, submission and adjudication of the artworks, to hosting a series of masterclasses and a mentorship programme for the 2019 Absa L’Atelier ambassadors, culminating in the online awards ceremony.
Entries were received from across Africa and judged by an independent panel of adjudicators including acclaimed artist and Director at BKhz, Banele Khoza as well as Armelle Dakouo, independent curator and artistic director at AKAA Art & Design Fair.
Criteria for selecting the Ambassador included technical execution, conceptual and thematic engagement, freshness of artistic vision within the context of the contemporary African art landscape; as well as aesthetic appeal.
Established 17 years ago, the Gerard Sekoto award goes to a South African artist, aged between 25 and 35 years, who has continued to demonstrate integrity in the quality of their artwork.
The Award is made possible by the Embassy of France in South Africa, the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS), which is the cultural arm of the Embassy, and the Alliance Française network in South Africa.
“With our partners Absa and SANAVA, we are proud to support the Gerard Sekoto award and to accompany young artists to share their work both nationally and internationally. We believe in this award which grants a talented young South African artist an amazing opportunity: to expand his or her horizons with a 3-month artistic residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, and, of course, gain greater exposure as a result. The artists are inspired and inspire. They learn, and they teach. They explore, and exhibit, allowing people in France and in South Africa to learn more about their individual style and vision”, says Aurelien Lechevallier, who is France’s Ambassador to South Africa.
Though COVID-19 provided its challenges, the past two years were likewise a period of innovation and technological progression.
“The pandemic has allowed us to advance our digital art presence with the launch of the Absa Art Hotspot. This unique virtual experience platform made it possible for us to host live events such as webinars, art exhibitions, art masterclasses, and art auctions, while certain elements of our art-related sponsorships and partnerships such as this year’s awards event were also migrated to the platform,” says Paul Bayliss, senior sepecialist Art Curator at Absa.
Hosting the competition digitally allowed for the removal of any barriers to entry as all the artist required was a smart phone or access to the internet. “With this year’s theme ‘The Act of Art’, we called our continent’s fearless creators to act and to enter. This years’ competition once again provided an opportunity for visual artists to respond and make their voices heard. We are committed to putting the basic building blocks in place to ensure that young artists from across the African continent can reimagine their futures and bring their possibility to life,” says Bayliss.
Dr Avitha Sooful, SANAVA’s President, commended her partners, Absa, for forging ahead and continuously seeking ways to impact the African visual arts scene even during the ongoing pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic derailed our plans for 2020 but through some innovative thinking, we were able to come back stronger this year and we actually have more entries than we have ever had for this competition. I commend the work that our partners, Absa, have done in making sure that African artists continue to reap the rewards of their hard work,” Dr Sooful said.
“We look forward to working with this year’s ambassadors and Gerard Sekoto winner and providing the next generation of young African artists with the support, recognition, and exposure they need to solidify their careers and build their brands,” concluded Bayliss.