ABSA L’atelier 2022 | as told by winning artists of 2021

Absa, in partnership with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA), announced the 2021 Absa L’Atelier four category winners at an online event hosted on the Absa Art Hotspot. As a guide for your near application to this prestigious art competition, we caught up with these winners.

In Group A (Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, and Zambia), the winner was Adelheid von Maltitz from South Africa. In Group B (Mauritius, Nigeria, Seychelles, and Tanzania) the winner was Ayobola Kekere-Ekun from Nigeria. In Group C (Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, and Namibia) the winner was Blebo Michael Jackson from Ghana.

These artists now take on the title of Absa L’Atelier Ambassador 2021, while the 2021 winner for Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto category was Cape Town-based artist Abongile Sidzumo. Read below as all artists share their personal experiences from the competition:

Michael Blebo, 2021 Absa L’Atelier Ambassador
Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, 2021 Absa L’Atelier Ambassador
Adelheid von Maltitz, 2021 Absa L’Atelier Ambassador

Could you name a few of the most reflective moments from the Absa L’Atelier art competition, that for you, has contributed to the growth of your artistic practice.

Adelheid von Maltitz: ”I would say all the media exposure that I have received, as well as invitations to exhibitions. Furthermore, the opportunities to meet and engage with not only the Absa L’Atelier team but also my fellow ambassadors have contributed to the growth of my artistic practice”

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun: ”When I first moved to South Africa in 2018, The Absa L’atelier finalist exhibition was the first show I attended. I remember thinking how incredible the work was. And while I could see myself standing in the finalists shoes, I did not think my work was ready to stand up for itself in a competition of that caliber. The competition inspired me to work harder and be more deliberate. I finally felt ready to apply in 2021 and the rest is history”

Michael Blebo: ”The competition has helped shape how I present my work as a whole to a much larger audience. Being named a winner has also opened so many doors for me, in terms of being recognised. This competition has granted me a space in which I find myself being able to talk about my work at a higher position as an artist”

The Gerard Sekoto award

Established more than a decade ago, the Gerard Sekoto award goes to a South African artist, aged between 25 and 35 years, who has continued to demonstrate integrity in the quality of their artwork. The Award is made possible by the Embassy of France in South Africa, the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS), which is the cultural arm of the Embassy, and the Alliance Française network in South Africa.

Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Category Winner – Abongile Sidzumo from South Africa
Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Category Winner – Abongile Sidzumo from South Africa
Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Category Winner – Abongile Sidzumo from South Africa

The 2021 Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto category winner Abongile Sidzumo, born in Cape Town, where he currently lives and works focuses his materiality to leather offcuts and repurposed materials. His work reflects and interrogates humanity, the way we co-exist and our relationship with nature. He also revisits memories and connects them to spaces he has lived in as well as the everyday life of marginalised communities. 

Leather is often associated with luxury, wealth, and power. Through his process of restitching and weaving leather, Abongile proposes that we start thinking about repurposed materials. The adjudicators for this award were acclaimed artist and Director at BKhz, Banele Khoza as well as Armelle Dakouo, independent curator and artistic director at AKAA Art & Design Fair.

Would you say there is any specific way to prepare yourself for this type of art competition?

Adelheid von Maltitz: ”I do not think you need special preparation other than working consistently and diligently on your art and staying authentic. I found that the Absa L’Atelier team will give you all the support and advice you may need for the media opportunities and further exhibition opportunities that come your way”

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun: ”I do not think there is a specific way to prepare. I think it is important to focus on the work and learn how to present your ideas and your practice. The other things need a solid foundation to fall into place”

Michael Blebo: ”For me, there is no right way to prepare. It is a matter of being as close to your work as you would want those critiquing to see them”

Can you tell us about your artistic work which was included in the virtual group exhibition in the Absa Art Hot Spot.

Adelheid von Maltitz: ”This body of work included land art, sculptures and a drawing which I had been working on over the past few years. My concept was focused around how I consider my artistic practice as a constructive means through which I can tackle difficult topics of death and loss”.

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun: ”The work was from my current body of work, She and I. It is a series where I explore the idea of identity and an origin story as a way of recreating my own childhood”

Michael Blebo: ”My work explores my environment. It dwells on the dialectic of what is lost and reflects on what is left as domestic architecture decays. The specificity of the works is reinforced by the materiality I use: charcoal, bentonite clay, and natural pigments. I particularly use red ochre, for the construction of mud houses, all sourced from my environment”

Group A Winner – Adelheid von Maltitz from South Africa
Group B Winner – Ayobola Kekere-Ekun from Nigeria
Group C Winner – Blebo Michael Jackson from Ghana

How did it feel to represent your country at this National scale, which in turn also plays into the international market?

Adelheid von Maltitz: ”It feels wonderful! What a privilege!”

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun: ”It is genuinely an honour. I have so many Nigerian peers making incredible work. To be counted amongst them is truly a blessing” 

Michael Blebo: ”It felt great to represent my country Ghana, with such a myriad of artists, all unique in their fields. It also felt encouraging to keep up with my practice and keep at it”

What is a key piece of advice you would give to future applicants?

Adelheid von Maltitz: ”I would say do not give up when your application is not successful the first, second or third time (no matter how many times!). Keep on making art and keep on applying for this amazing opportunity”

Ayobola Kekere-Ekun: ”You will never know if you do not try”

Michael Blebo: ”Believing in yourself and the value of your works is akin to already being halfway in the competition. It is also good to note that there is no better time to show your artwork than now. I beseech all applicants to stop procrastinating and just go for it!”

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