THE RELEVANCE OF ART THROUGH STORYTELLING

The best thing about the arts is that it is all about storytelling of some kind. Whether you are looking forward or reaching into the past, those who are the blessed recipients of the work whether on stage or hanging in an art gallery, will learn something that will have relevance in their own lives. DIANE DE BEER takes a look at current exhibitions at the Pretoria Art Museum:

Mondli Augustine Mbhele with his winning work for the 2022 Sasol New Signatures.

Full-time artist Mondli Mbhele (28) from Durban, KwaZulu-Natal has done exactly that, tell stories, and in the process has been announced as the winner of the 2022 Sasol New Signatures Art Competition.

Mbhele won the grand title for his work titled Iphasi nesiphesheli, which is part of a bigger series titled Umlando uyaziphinda. This is an isiZulu phrase, meaning “history repeats itself”. And don’t we all know that.

The series of mixed-media works is inspired by various iconic events from South Africa’s history.  In his winning work, Mbhele explores the dynamics of protests in contemporary South Africa. Yet before one even gets to the story, it is the colour and the clothes that captures your attention.

Mondli explains that this artwork was inspired by Sharpeville’s 21 March 1960 Anti-pass law event and the 2020 Covid19 events/laws regarding vaccination cards and face masks. “I saw that both of these share the same ideas in terms of accessibility.

“I use fabric collage as my medium of expression, because I am inspired by how fabric can be used in creating garments for different groups and ages of people, and I also realised similarities that fabric shares with our daily life events in the perspective of covering our bodies and busting or elevating our confidence to be able to face a new day. And also as a symbol of recognition or direction for example uniforms, like doctors, police, cleaners etc.

Mondli Mbhele’s Iphasi nesiphesheli, the winning work.

“In my work, I also use offcuts that I collect from fashion designers around Durban. While collecting these, I realised that fabrics have a gradation of value, worth and qualities. But when those offcuts of fabric are thrown away, they share the same state of being vulnerable. I recycle those offcuts and create a new dialogue that will get a chance to be appreciated and have a sense of their own purpose and voice rather than being thrown away.”

The brightly coloured collage is a snapshot of an ominous moment in a protest wherein a person is lying lifeless on the ground, yet no one seems alarmed. And therein lies the tale.

Mbhele walks away with a cash prize of R100 000 and the opportunity to have a solo exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum in 2023. 

Sasol has been the proud sponsor of the New Signatures competition for 32 years, which was established by the Association of Arts Pretoria in the late 1960’s and it is glorious that this time around we can once again, if we’re lucky and live in the city or close by, see the full extravagance and exuberance of this national competition.

From left: Malik Mali (Cape Town), Linde Kriel (Bloemfontein), Omolemo Rammile (Bloemfontein), Rohini Amratlal (Durban), Mondli Mbhele (Durban), Herman Pretorius (Pretoria) and Andrea Walters (Durban)

“For emerging artists, the challenge remains the same: breaking into a very competitive, ever-evolving field. Sasol is honoured to play a role in providing opportunities for emerging artists to showcase their work.  This year we had an unprecedented number of entries, which reinforces the need for a platform such as this. It also highlights the depth of talent and creativity across South African society,” said Elton Fortuin, Sasol Vice President: Group Communications and Brand Management.

Pfunzo Sidogi, Chairperson of the Sasol New Signatures Competition, said: “This year, we received over 1 000 entries from the seven regional judging rounds, the highest number of submissions in the competition’s long history. We were particularly encouraged by the increased number of entries received from artists who did not attain formal university art education. This speaks volumes of the creative energy and passion to produce art that exists in all quarters of the country, and it is critical that we provide platforms for this creativity to be seen and celebrated”.

I was also pleasantly surprised for example that the country as whole seemed to be represented and wish the exhibition could travel more widely – or even digitally.

Runner up Omolemo Rammile’s Mére célibataire (single mom).

Omolemo Rammile from Bloemfontein was crowned runner-up and awarded R25 000 for her work entitled Mére célibataire (single mom), which pays tribute to her mother and acknowledges the personal sacrifices she makes on a daily basis as a sole provider and breadwinner for her twin daughters. Bread is universally considered a staple food source. The artist uses embossed bread tags to symbolise the ‘daily bread’ her mother buys to feed her family. The multiple imprints of the bread tag on the paper are akin to the lasting impact and inner mark that the mother’s love has left on the artist and her family.

And again, staying with the storytelling, the two winning works would both resonate with especially South Africans because the stories although with universal merit, is also particularly (and poignantly) from home ground.

The 5 Merit award winners are:

Rohini Amratlal (Durban)

Merit award winner: Durban’s Rohini Amratlal’s Unveiling the archive.
Epoxy resin, wood, ‘Icansi’ (grass mat)

Epoxy resin, wood, ‘Icansi’ (grass mat)

Merit award winner: Bloemfontein’s Linde Kriel’s (Rest)Room.

Copperplate etching

Merit award winner: Upington’s Malik Mani’s From the concrete grew a rose.

Pencil on Arches paper

Merit award winner: Instructures by Herman Pretorius, Pretoria.

Archival prints & computer installation

Andrea Walters (Durban) #OverMyDeadBody 1#OverMyDeadBody 4

Sunlight soap & Perspex and Hospital gurney, embroidered shroud & speaker

Each Merit Award winner received a R10 000 cash prize.

“The judges at both the regional and final judging round were inspired and impressed by the diversity of narratives and boldness in artistic vision evident in some of the submissions, added Sidogi. While he paid tribute to the judges, the biggest acknowledgement went to every artist who entered the competition this year. “Your creativity, passion, and commitment to artmaking are priceless. The incredible turnout of entrants bodes well for the current and future vitality of art in South Africa. Onwards with the spirit of creativity. All sectors of South Africa are desperate for it.”.

Those who didn’t see the winning work of last year’s new Signature winner, will be able to view Supernature: Simulacra, the solo exhibition by the multidisciplinary artist Andrea du Plessis. This exhibitionis a deepening of her research into the sublime experience and the complex relationship with nature in an age marked by technological augmentation and simulation.      

Her work is quite extraordinary and pictures as with many other artworks, don’t do justice. It’s an extension of the Supernature series, she began in 2020; the work features an exploration of emerging technologies in combination with traditional oil painting to create interactive, immersive realms as well as an encyclopaedia of hybrid lifeforms. The artist hopes to offer the viewer an opportunity to consider our interconnectivity with the natural world and examines the possibility of reconnecting to nature via technology.

The solo exhibition and the Sasol New Signatures Art Competition exhibition runs until  2 October 2022.  All the finalists are included in the competition catalogue which can also be sourced online. The full exhibition is also available to view virtually on the website.

https://www.sasolsignatures.co.za/.co.za/

The fantastic work of last year’s winner Andrea du Plessis.

Her work is quite extraordinary and pictures as with many other artworks, don’t do justice. It’s an extension of the Supernature series, she began in 2020; the work features an exploration of emerging technologies in combination with traditional oil painting to create interactive, immersive realms as well as an encyclopaedia of hybrid lifeforms. The artist hopes to offer the viewer an opportunity to consider our interconnectivity with the natural world and examines the possibility of reconnecting to nature via technology.

From the beginning of September until 30 October 2022, an exhibition titled Fired Up! – Celebrating Southern African Glass Art showcases glass art and design in a myriad of creative interpretations at the Pretoria Art Museum.

Fired Up! will be complemented by a day of glass-blowing demonstrations at the Tshwane University of Technology Faculty of Arts and Design Campus from 26 to 29 September 2022 from 9am to 4pm, as well as a symposium on Saturday, 1 October 2022.

Those who didn’t see the winning work of last year’s new Signature winner, will be able to view Supernature: Simulacra, the solo exhibition by the multidisciplinary artist Andrea du Plessis. This exhibition is a deepening of her research into the sublime experience and the complex relationship with nature in an age marked by technological augmentation and simulation.      

The United Nations has declared 2022 as the International Year of Glass. A multitude of international events are planned throughout this special year, and several local institutions have been hard at work to ensure that Southern Africa is featured on this prestigious global calendar.

Several speakers from artists, academics and the industry will discuss the theme, Glass and its Future in an African Context. Attendees of this symposium will also enjoy live glass-blowing demonstrations at the Tshwane University of Technology Glass Studio.

Also check them on Instagram @southern_african_glass or email them at yog2022.southafrica@gmail.com for more information.

https://www.sasolsignatures.co.za/

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