Art awards generally divide opinion among artists and collectors, and are sometimes seen as reflecting the interests of the sponsoring party at best, or a corporate PR exercise at worst. But awards undeniably offer a boost to winning artist’s careers, offering good exposure particularly for those artists without access to galleries and other networks.
The Sasol New Signatures competition might be regarded a little differently — partly because its longevity speaks to its commitment to artists and their work. The Association of Arts in Pretoria has run the competition since the 1960s, and Sasol has sponsored the substantial Awards for the last 32 years.
Last week, the 2022 winner was announced as Mondli Mbhele from Durban, who won the top prize of R100,000 and a solo exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum in 2023.
Mbhele won the coveted 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”.
“This work submitted is inspired by SA historical events that share ideas with events that have happened since 28 years of democracy in SA,” Mbhele said in a statement.
“[It] was inspired by Sharpeville's 21 March 1960 Anti-pass law event and the 2020 Covid-19 events/laws regarding vaccination cards and face masks. I saw that both of these share the same ideas in terms of accessibility.”
He added that it has taken him seven years to be able to enter Sasol’s New Signature art competition and that his win has taught him that “persistence gives birth to new life if you believe in what you create as an artist”.
The series of mixed-media works, primarily using the currently voguish combination of fabric collage and paint, are historical in theme, focused in the winning work on a poignant moment in a contemporary SA political protest. The colourful collage is a translation of a photograph of a foregrounded figure who seems to be lying injured or dead, but no-one in the surrounding crowd pays attention.
Pfunzo Sidogi, Chair of the Sasol New Signatures competition committee, 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 and almost double the amount of last year’s competition. 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”.
Omolemo Rammile from Bloemfontein won the runner-up prize of R25,000 for her work entitled Mére célibataire (single mom), dedicated to her own mother and her challenges and sacrifices as a single mother. The work is conceptually appealing but also visually innovative, using embossed bread tags to symbolise the daily bread of her mother’s struggles to provide.
The five Merit award winners of R10,000 each are: Rohini Amratlal (Durban), Linde Kriel (Bloemfontein), Malik Mani (Upington), Herman Pretorius (Pretoria) and Andrea Walters (Durban). The works of these artists are distinguished by the variety and invention of their mediums, ranging from traditional copperplate etching to computer generated archival prints and sculptural installations.
In addition to the announcement of this year’s winners, the event also saw the opening of the solo exhibition of 2021’s winner, multidisciplinary artist Andrea du Plessis. Her show, Supernature: Simulacra, uses AR and VR technology to subtly transform traditional landscape oil paintings, as a means to comment on the possibility of reconnecting to nature via technology.
Du Plessis’s solo exhibition and the Sasol New Signatures Art Competition exhibition, featuring the work of the 2022 winners and finalists, will show at the Pretoria Art Museum from August 25 until October 2. All the finalists are also included in the competition catalogue, and the exhibitions are also available to view on the website.