DIANE DE BEER
Art has the power to address issues that are uncomfortable to talk about or deal with – and start a conversation.
Speaking her mind is last year’s Sasol New Signatures winner Zyma Amien who is presenting her solo exhibition, “Real” lives and “Ordinary” objects: Partisan art-making strategies with garment workers in the Western Cape… continuation, alongside this year’s winning works at the Pretoria Art Museum.
Johannesburg-based artist, Lebohang Kganye, 27, has been announced as the winner of the 2017 Sasol New Signatures Art Competition. She won the coveted award for her animated film ‘Ke sale teng’, which means ‘I’m still here’ in Sesotho.
As the winner, Kganye received a cash prize of R100 000 and the chance to have a solo exhibition in next year’s competition at the Pretoria Art Museum.
This year’s theme was “be discovered”. “Noteworthy this year has been the diversity of the submissions received. This demonstrates that Sasol New Signatures is making progress in reaching emerging artists from all walks of life,” said Charlotte Mokoena, Sasol Executive President for Corporate Affairs and Human Resources.
Coming in second place was Sthenjwa Luthuli from KwaZulu-Natal. He won for his woodcut work titled Umbango, which means ‘conflict’ in isiZulu. The work reflects the cultural politics within traditional Zulu rituals and customs in a contemporary family setting.
“The piece I submitted is constructed in an aesthetically pleasing technique, yet on the contrary, contains really complex subjects in terms of their content. It reflects domestic contradictions inside traditional Zulu contemporary family methods.”
And that was the interesting phenomenon about this year’s entries as showcased in the two winning works but also the five merit award winners. There was a strong sense that these individual artists were negotiating their family narratives and using their art to claim and establish their personal stories.
“My mother encouraged me to find a way to deal with some of my personal issues in a manner that people would take notice,” said Goitseone Moerane whose work of family pictures titled Mosadi o tswara thipa ka bogaleng (translated as “a woman holding a knife’s blade”) received one of the five merit awards. She was puzzled by the subservient role women play in especially traditional or cultural situations in her family and drew a correlation between the Shweshwe dresses they wore on these occasions and the behaviour.
“I used the Shweshwe cloth as a metaphor for what the black woman is expected to be; a mother, a wife or makoti, a provider, a domestic as well as a good daughter-in-law.” That’s why she replaced the women’s body and faces with the cloth, as it represents what was expected of women and what they were taught to aspire to be.
Sticking to the theme of family, overall winner Lebohang Kganye’s Ke sale teng (I am still here) confronts how family photo albums no longer have a fixed narrative, but instead, opens us to reinterpret our past. She was intrigued when exploring her family history by how different the stories were, with one common denominator, her grandfather, who featured strongly in every narrative.
“He was the first one of the family who moved to the city and I refer to him as the Pied Piper,” she explains. As a photographer by profession, that’s the central part of all her art but in this instance it was cutout family pictures which she transformed into animation reflecting a kind of pop-up album with the stories all performed as they were told to her.
‘Identity’ is the word that comes to mind most strongly with many of the New Signature works, that and the way these narratives inform not only the artists, but also the viewers. In this country, getting those personal narratives into a public space has a seismic effect.
Not only does it speak to the storyteller’s identity, it also shapes role models for future generations and in a country where there are so many cultural differences for example, it is a way of introducing our people – especially to one another.
And these are just three of the examples. The diversity of the participants is also reflected in the diversity of the exhibition. With an animated piece walking off with the New Signatures grand prize this year, and the second placed Luthuli’s win for his woodcut work and one of the merit awards having her say with family photographs, it reflects the overall picture.
There is a commonality in theme, yet diversity in medium.
The 5 Merit Award Winners are: