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The 2013 Absa L’Atelier Art Competition drew to a close last night with four exceptionally talented young South African artists being honoured for their outstanding contemporary pieces


Three of the works reflected the country’s past in terms of its history and traditions, providing social and political comment, while the fourth explored the universal theme of death and transformation in a novel and engaging way.

Pauline Gutter (Bloemfontein) took the overall award and main prize for her piece, Die Huweliksaansoek, while Mongezi Ncaphayi (Johannesburg) was awarded the Gerard Sekoto Award, sponsored by Alliance Française, for the most promising artist with an annual income less than R60 000 for his work, Migrant Workers’ Hostels.

The two Merit Award winners were Jaco van Schalkwyk (Johannesburg), awarded for his mixed media installation Beloofde Land? /Promised Land? and Kathleen Sawyer (Port Elizabeth), recognised for Somata.

Now in its 28th year, the Absa L’Atelier Art Competition, in partnership with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA), is rated as the longest-running and most influential art contest on the continent. It pays homage to both established and emerging young local artists and their compelling artistic vision.

Dr Paul Bayliss, Absa Art and Museum Curator, says more than 565 entries were received from across the country. “It was so fascinating to see the depth of creativity exhibited by the entrants. It points to how our emerging artists are growing. Over the years that L’Atelier has been running, we have physically seen this growth among entrants, both personally and professionally as artists.

At Absa, we are delighted to see how these artists’ careers are flourishing through this platform, and we will continue to support and empower young South African artists in this way,” says Dr Bayliss. “We would also like to thank the partners that have joined us in creating this platform and the exciting journey for these artists; it is a vital partnership that we – and no doubt, the local arts community – truly value.”

Pauline Gutter, Die Huweliksaansoek, Video, old farm telephone, engraved plaque and wood

Gutter’s winning work, Die Huweliksaansoek, featured a video, old farm telephone, engraved plaque and wood. A 1.8 metre high association-rich obelisk confronts the observer with the intimate action of a stud-bull’s seminal discharge. The observer is encouraged to ‘listen in’ voyeuristically to the ‘agri-porno’ on the screen. The listening-in apparatus is a farm-line handset; the soundtrack is the voice of
Gerben Kamper, recognisable as that of the heroic musketeer, Brakkenjan.

Even though it is now obsolete, the handset symbolises the first phase of the search for women, which is ‘listened to’ by the entire community. The text is a collage of dialogue from the kykNet reality show ‘Boer Soek ‘n Vrou’, in which the female role is that of a homemaker and progeny-provider.

Productivity and sustainability in agriculture are determined by the interaction between cattle-breeding, land ownership and the guarantee of descendants. The three elements are brought into context in a humoristic but also anthropological-museum-like manner. With social and gender implications, the piece raises the question, ‘Does a farmer search for a wife in the way he would search for stud animals and breed them?’

Ncaphayi’s etching, Migrant Workers’ Hostels, meanwhile focuses on the migration of, and first establishments of ‘urban’ settlements for, black labourers, especially the mine workers. This stems from the artist growing up in what used to be a mining town, and his fascination with the history of migration. The work commemorates those who died in the townships between 1990 and 1994, as such these hostels are perceived as living monuments.

As part of her prize, Gutter won R125 000 from Absa, a return air ticket to Paris and a six months residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. Ncaphayi won a return air ticket to Paris and three months’ stay in the Cité Internationale des Arts, sponsored by Alliance Française: The French Institute and the French Embassy.

This year, for the first time, two Merit Award winners were named, each also receiving a prestigious residency prize. Van Schalkwyk won a two months’ stay at the Sylt Foundation in Germany. Sawyer won a one month’s stay at the Ampersand Foundation in New York. As part of the prize, Sawyer also becomes a Fellow of the Ampersand Foundation.

Aside from these four winners, the remaining Top 10 artists recognised for excellence this year included Jan Tshikhuthula for Thiko (Johannesburg); Louis de Villiers for You & Me (Durban); Heidi Fourie for Autasuggest ABC (Pretoria); Vincent Bezuidenhout for Food Court (Cape Town); Franli Meintjies for Tribute to Martha (Pretoria) and Ruan Huisamen for Reveal (Cape Town).

The competition is open to young artists between the ages of 21 and 35, and attracts entries from across the country, which is open to public viewing during the regional adjudication rounds. An exhibition of the top 100 works will be on public display from 18 July to 22 August 2013 at the Absa Gallery, Upper Ground Level, Absa Towers North, 161 Main Street. Members of the public are requested to bring their ID books along for parking and entry purposes.

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