After the Covid-19 pandemic derailed plans for the 2020 Absa L’Atelier competition, Absa in partnership with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA) pushed forward to make the 35th edition of the competition in 2021 a remarkable success. After great innovation, technological progression and the launch of the Absa Art Hotspot, the competition went ahead digitally, opening its doors wider than ever before. For this year’s theme ‘The Act of Art’, any artist with a smartphone and access to the internet was able to enter.
The Absa L’Atelier Awards
Absa L’Atelier rewards young visual artists aged 21 to 40 from a range of African countries. The competition is split into four groups, Group A comprises entrants from Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia, Group B includes Mauritius, Nigeria, Seychelles, and Tanzania while Group C involves Botswana, Ghana, Kenya and Namibia.
The fourth award, established 17 years ago, is the Gerard Sekoto Award. This award goes to a South African artist between the ages of 25 and 35, who continues to demonstrate integrity in the quality of their artwork. The Embassy of France in South Africa, its cultural arm, the French Institute of South Africa, and the South African Alliance Française network make this award possible. The Gerard Sekoto winner receives a 3-month artistic residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris and a trophy depicting a bull, representing prosperity and resilience.
The artists become 2021 Absa L’Atelier Ambassadors and the winners of groups A, B and C receive trophies portraying hands, symbolising the physical manifestation of creation, designed, and produced by Roberto Vacarro, an established South African artist. They also receive a host of other prizes including a mentorship and both a group and individual exhibition in the Absa Gallery in Johannesburg. The group exhibition will also travel to each of the artists home countries in the next year.
Ambassadors are selected based on technical execution, conceptual and thematic engagement, freshness of artistic vision within the context of the contemporary African art landscape and aesthetic appeal. Adjudicators look at how the artists engage with honest and fresh ways of seeing the African landscape revealing honest and intellectual reasoning or rationale. Their handling of material and techniques and their consideration for visual quality and conceptual concerns is also crucial.
The 2021 Winners
After a record number of entrants this year the adjudicators selected the following Ambassadors:
In Group A, Adelheid von Maltitz from South Africa was chosen, with her art installation which engaged with the concept of roadside shrines. In Group B, Nigeria artist Ayobola Kekere-Ekun’s colourful portrayal of a mother and daughter in fabric and paper earned her a place. Michael Blebo, also known as Troy, born in Accra, Ghana created a combined work of sculpture, installation and drawing displaying the environment and the decay of domestic architecture to be chosen for Group C. The Gerard Sekoto category winner is Abongile Sidzumo from Cape Town, with a sculpture of leather and repurposed materials reflecting and interrogating humanity, the way we co-exist and our relationship with nature.
This year’s awards ceremony was held online and featured music by the Mzansi Youth Choir and a performance by the Mzansi Ballet. The 35th edition of the Absa L’Atelier is the first African art competition to be hosted completely virtually, from entry to adjudication and including a series of masterclasses and a mentorship programme for the 2019 Absa L’Atelier Ambassadors. Despite numerous challenges, Absa and SANAVA have forged ahead and built a new Absa L’Atelier competition to evolve and grow with the African landscape.