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The much-anticipated Absa L’Atelier Awards 2023 took place on Thursday evening, 12 October at The Galleria, in Sandton, Johannesburg. The event was a successful celebration of African artistic excellence, showcasing the works of talented individuals who have left an indelible mark on the creative landscape.

The Absa L’Atelier Awards reflect a commitment to fostering artistic expression and contributing to the cultural richness of the continent. The Absa L’Atelier, which is open to individuals between the ages of 21 and 40, embodies Absa’s dedication to assisting young artists on their journey of self-discovery and artistic growth. The adjudicators were carefully picked from various countries across the globe, such as South Africa, Italy, France, USA, Ghana, and Tanzania.

Gerard Sekoto Award Winner: Bulumkho Mbete (South Africa). Courtesy of Absa L’Atelier.

To start the evening, the much-anticipated announcement of the Gerard Sekoto Award winner took center stage. The Gerard Sekoto Award is an art prize named in honour of the prominent South African artist Gerard Sekoto, recognised for his influential contributions to modern art and depictions of urban life and the challenges faced by black South Africans. Administered by the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS), in partnership with Absa and the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA), the Award seeks to foster and endorse contemporary South African art and nurtures cross-cultural connection through a prestigious residency in Paris. Typically awarded to young artists, aged 25 to 35 years of age, demonstrating exceptional talent and innovation, it serves as a platform for the promotion and support of artistic endeavours in the country. As the audience held its collective breath, the proudly South African Bulumko Mbete echoed through the room, ushering in a moment of celebration and recognition.

Absa L’Atelier Group A represented by Edward Lawerh (Ghana). Courtesy of Absa L’Atelier.

To conclude this remarkable evening, Absa L’Atelier made the grand announcement of the main prize, recognising the three winning Ambassadors from distinct groups: Group A represented by Edward Lawerh (Ghana), Group B by Gayi Eric Joe (Uganda), and Group C by Idowu Emmanuel (Nigeria). The artists’ body of work not only displayed innovative visions but also showcased skilful execution that captured the essence of contemporary African art. In a noteworthy development, the competition, which expanded to a Pan-African scale in 2019, has witnessed remarkable achievements. Notably, artists from Nigeria and Ghana have emerged victorious three times each since the competition took on a Pan-African scope. This year is historic as a winning artist from Uganda claims the spotlight for the first time, highlighting the diversification of winning artists from various African countries and underscoring the competition’s growing impact and the abundant artistic talent across the continent. The Absa L’Atelier Awards 2023 will mark a pivotal moment in the journey of these artists, signaling not only individual achievement but also the collective progress of the African art scene.

Absa L’Atelier Group B represented by Gayi Eric Joe (Uganda). Courtesy of Absa L’Atelier.

Dr Paul Bayliss, Senior Specialist: Art and Museum Curator at Absa offered insights and perspectives on the transformative power of art. “Within the vast realm of creativity, a beacon of hope shines a light on the profound importance of not only championing but also wholeheartedly nurturing the budding talents that enrich our artistic landscape. Emerging artists are not merely creators of the present, but architects shaping the destiny of the artistic narrative for generations to come. Tonight, is true testament that when it comes to investing in and fostering the growth of these talents, we don’t only enrich the present artistic discourse but ensure a legacy of perpetual brilliance that will resonate through the corridors of time”. Further to this, Absa L’Atelier is happy to announce their partnership with the Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria (UP). This partnership will offer the advancement of the creative sector across the continent and explore opportunities that the three entities can leverage on to propel the African artistic narrative forward. The Javett Art Centre at UP acknowledges Absa’s and the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA) substantial investments in supporting Africa’s visual artists for the long term. The Art Centre recognises the significance of contributing to the curatorial vision and looks forward to the partnership on initiatives that will further shape the future of African art.

Absa L’Atelier Group A represented by Idowu Emmanuel (Nigeria). Courtesy of Absa L’Atelier.

CEO at the Javett Art Centre at University of Pretoria, Lekgetho Makola says “Our partnership with Absa and SANAVA, in the context of the Absa L’Atelier is a strategic agreement designed to propel our mission. We aspire to champion the promotion and curation of art and cultural heritage programs, leveraging them as powerful instruments for social transformation and innovation. Through this collaboration, we envision a reimagining of our collective futures, specifically for the vibrant continent of Africa, as we passionately contribute to shaping a cultural legacy that resonates through generations. Furthermore, Absa and the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA) commitment to assisting young artists is commendable, as evident in the Absa L’Atelier. The competition not only provides a platform for emerging artists but also emphasises the need for a young participatory audience to foster growth within the artistic community.”

“The Absa L’Atelier Awards and Gerard Sekoto Award are powerful platforms that celebrate brilliance and diverse perspectives. Each winner is a testament to the creativity and enduring spirit of collaboration of South African and French artistic dialogue. We are proud to be part of an initiative that aims to make artists’ visions come true” says Mr. David Martinon, Ambassador of France to South Africa. 

At the core of the Absa L’Atelier narrative is the powerful Absa purpose of Empowering Africa’s tomorrow, together… one story at a time. Absa and its partners are poised to actively nurture, guide and empower these young artists while they give life to their unique artistic narratives and building a vibrant tomorrow for the visionaries of today.

For more information, please visit the Absa L’Atelier.

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