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Africa: L’Atelier 2021 Celebrates Diverse Talent From Across Africa


Cape Town — The Absa L’Atelier competition is now in its 35th year and it continues to provide young African artists with the support, recognition, and exposure they need to cement their burgeoning careers.

The competition runs in 12 African countries where Absa has a presence. Artists who are citizens and permanent residents of Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia are eligible to participate in the Absa L’Atelier art competition. The Absa L’Atelier art competition is hosted annually by Absa in partnership with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA).

This year’s theme was The Act of Art, which called on fearless creators to enter.

The winners of the 2021 Absa L’Atelier were chosen from the three groups of African countries. The Ambassadors received trophies that depict hands, symbolising the physical manifestation of creation, designed, and produced by established South African artist Roberto Vacarro, while the Gerard Sekoto trophy depicts a bull, representing prosperity and resilience.

The criteria for selecting the Ambassador included technical execution i.e. the artist’s expert handling of material and techniques; conceptual and thematic engagement i.e. how they revealed an honest and intellectual reasoning or rationale; freshness of artistic vision within the context of the contemporary African art landscape i.e. how the artist engaged with honest and fresh ways of seeing; as well as aesthetic appeal which implies that the artist must have shown great consideration for visual quality and conceptual concerns, and whether the portfolio of artworks was a cohesive submission carrying the intended message or thematic idea.

In Group A winner, Adelheid von Maltitz, is currently studying towards her PhD in Fine Arts at the University of the Free State in South Africa, where she also lectures primarily in sculpture and drawing. Her winning entry, presented in partial fulfilment of the requirement for her Doctor of Philosophy degree, is concerned with the transformative potential of dynamic threshold places such as roadside shrines. For her, making sculpture and installation art involves processes that allow her to constructively engage personal anxieties around death and loss.

Her interest in roadside shrines was sparked when she observed, what looked like a mother and sister continually, over months, rebuilding and maintaining a roadside shrine which she passed regularly on her daily commute. By initially examining the nature of roadside shrines in relation to her own art-making processes, she was struck by the similarities in the ways in which death and loss may be engaged with, constructively and in a healing manner, through art.

In Group B winner, Ayobola Kekere-Ekun, hails from Nigeria and, like Adelheid, is also pursuing a PhD in Art and Design from the University of Johannesburg.  Fascinated with lines, her brightly coloured work is driven by three foundation pillars: lines, neutrality of paper and fabric. Ayobola transforms traditional Nigerian fabric and paper with a technique called quilling, whereby strips of material and paper are individually shaped, placed, and secured to capture pockets of light and shadow, giving her works a three-dimensional effect. It is a methodical and labour-intensive process; a single piece can take her between three and seven weeks to complete.

In Group C winner, Michael Blebo, also known as Troy, was born in Accra, Ghana. Specialising in sculpture, he is a Fine Arts graduate from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. His work combines sculpture, installation and drawing, and explores the environment and the decay of domestic architecture. As an emerging artist, he combines unconventional material such as white clay, charcoal, natural pigment, brown paper and chipboard to erect large scale works. Scale plays a major role in his work and he is influenced by the large scale works of American artists Richard Serra, Laurie Lipton and Adonna Khare as well as fellow Ghanaian Ibrahim Mahama.

Cape Town-based artist Abongile Sidzumo has won the Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto category. The award is handed to the most promising emerging South African artist aged 25 to 35. It was established 17 years ago. This award has been supported for more than a decade by the Embassy of France, the French Institute, and the Alliance Française. Sidzumo completed his degree in Fine Arts at the Michaelis School of Fine Arts in 2019.

He works with leather offcuts and repurposed materials to create works that reflect and interrogate 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 marginalized communities. His work was shown in “We’ve come to take you home”, an exhibition of works recently acquired by the University of Cape Town. Sidzumo is a recipient of the Blessing Ngobeni Art Prize, which has afforded him a solo exhibition at Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg in 2020. In that same year, he was a runner-up for the Cassirer Welz award, hosted by Strauss & Co auctioneers.