Absa, in partnership with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA) announced the winners of the prestigious Absa L’Atelier competition, which celebrated its 34th year and saw rich and diverse talent emerge from across the continent.
Raji Bamidele, Nkhensani Rihlampfu, Winifrid Luena and Phoka Nyokong, were the top winners at the lavish event that took place at the Absa Dome, Cape Town, during the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Nigerian-based visual artist Raji Bamidele’s winning portfolio drew inspiration from the experiences that moulded him as young man and wove in differing materials and methods of contemporary and modern art forms to call into question the existence of time and being.
“My works examine the everyday innermost activities of mankind, exploring personal and political narratives, focusing mostly on the resilience of the human spirit,” he says.
South African multi-media artist Nkhensani Rihlampfu’s work aimed to expose the manipulation of communication through gesture and assumption by using fantastical figures to immerse viewers in a reality founded in perception.
“The work exists in the overlapping margin between truth and ideology; it is in this space that we each discover our identity and acknowledge the importance of communication. We are presented with familiar structures and recognisable characteristics, but never definitive facts,” he explains.
The third winner, Tanzanian visual artist Winifrid Luena’s work was a study of individuality over individualism. “There is a sense in the world at times that being an individual is a collective process – that it is part of a larger argument intended to bring some kind of human liberation, that it is an act of authority and power over the self – which is why I divide these two terms,” he says.
Nyokong walked away with the esteemed Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award, which is bestowed on the most promising emerging South African artist aged 25 to 35 to enter the competition. Absa and SANAVA in partnership with the Embassy of France, IFAS and the Alliance Francaise in South Africa, introduced the award in 2004 to honour Sekoto’s legacy, which changed the narrative of how the work and lives of black South African artists is perceived, valued and documented.
“The work, which uses the medium of studio photography to create a performative narrative, does this by imagining the human as a being whose social identity cannot be pinned down to mere rigid gender associations – a being whose socialized nature means that they may only negotiate even their most intimate emotions, particularly their fears, in the sociable structures within which they are born and bred,” he says.
Absa L’Atelier has always worked to provide the dynamic, inspiring and young visual artists from across the African continent the platform they need to explore these types of themes and contemporary issues and to bring their possibilities to life – and in its 34 years, it has built a strong legacy for achieving this.
Nyokong, as the winner of the Gerard Sekoto award, will enjoy a three-month residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts in 2020 and a travelling exhibition through the Alliance Française network in South Africa in 2021.
The Absa L’Atelier art competition is hosted annually by Absa in partnership with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA).