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Johannesburg artist Kemang Wa Luhelere wins 2010 MTN New Contemporaries Art Award in Durban

From left: Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture Paul Mashatile with the winner, Kemang Wa Lehulere, MTN SA Foundation Head Eunice Maluleke and guest curator Nontobeko Ntombela.

DURBAN — Johannesburg artist Kemang Wa Lehulere has won the 2010 MTN New Contemporaries Art Award, beating shortlisted contenders Donna
Kukama, Stuart Bird and Mohau Modisakeng. The announcement was made at an award ceremony at the KZNSA Gallery in Durban, on September 14. The conferral of the award coincides with a group exhibition of new work by all four shortlisted finalists, organised by Nontobeko
Ntombela, the 2010 New Contemporaries Award guest curator.

Kemang Wa Lehulere’s installation Remembering the Future of a Hole as Verb, 2010.

While Kukama, Bird and Modisakeng have all produced polished work consistent with their recent practice, Wa Lehulere’s monochromatic installation Remembering the Future of a Hole as Verb (2010) is the most convincing, especially given the overarching rubric of the award (“young contemporary”). This is the fifth iteration of the award, which launched in 2001 with Clive Kellner as guest curator.

Less concerned with refining a reproducible commodity-based practice — a criticism that could levelled at some of Bird and Modisakeng’s work — Wa Lehulere’s installation, discretely placed in an annex to the main exhibition space, confronts the viewer with chalk-drawn wall drawings, snatches of impressionistic text, mounds of fresh soil and a video piece (Ukuguqula iBatyi, 2008) in which the artist excavates a buried object. The new work is a refinement of previous projects, including his 2009 debut one-person exhibition, Ubontsi: Sharp
Sharp!, which included monochromatic works on paper.

Born in Cape
Town in 1984 and currently resident in Johannesburg, where he is completing a BA(FA) at Wits, Wa Lehulere has in the last few years worked in a range fo media (video, print, paint, installation and performance). A former
member of Gugulective and current member of the Dead Revolutionaries Club — his
bio on the latter’s website states that “he un-ashamedly has BEE aspirations
and hopes to be a house ‘Nigger’ one day” — Wa Lehulere recently (August) attended a ten-day workshop at the Paul Klee Centre in Bern, Switzerland, where critic Jan Verwoert supervisied proceedings. Visitors to the blustery opening of Dada South? last December may also remember Wa Lehulere’s performance involving a megaphone, cheese grater and school textbooks.

In a profile on the artist, published in the September 2009 issue of Art South Africa, contributor Kabelo Malatsie wrote: “There is an urgency about
the artist Kemang wa Lehulere. He sleeps late and wakes up early. His furrowed
brow reflects a mind whose ambition outstrips the available hours in a day.” It appears that ambition is beginning to pay dividends.
Stuart Bird’s works ‘Empty Promises’ and ‘Promises, Promises’, both 2010, ties and aluminium.
Installation view showing work by Stuart Bird, left, and Mohau Modisakeng.
Installation view of Mohau Modisakeng’s photographic triptych.
Detail of Kemang Wa Lehulere’s installation Remembering the Future of a Hole as Verb, 2010.
Entrance to the KZNSA Gallery.
Detail of Kemang Wa Lehulere’s installation Remembering the Future of a Hole as Verb, 2010.
Mohau Modisakeng’s monument to the Okapi knife, a lockback or slipjoint knife originally produced in 1902 for export to Germany’s colonies in Africa.
Detail of Kemang Wa Lehulere’s installation Remembering the Future of a Hole as Verb, 2010.

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