Broadening horizons

2010-07-27 00:00

DURBAN artist Bongumenzi Ngobese described winning the ­Gerard Sekoto Award in the annual Absa L’Atelier Art Awards as a “huge shock”.

“It’s going to sound a bit stupid, but it really wasn’t something I expected,” he said. “It came as a real surprise … as an artist in Durban you don’t expect to get much exposure. This is quite an achievement for me … I have been working hard while studying at DUT [Durban University of Technology] and this will act as a vehicle to boost my career.”

The 22-year-old Newlands West resident, who is studying towards a degree in fine art at DUT, said his mixed media piece Kwa-Mamkhize was inspired by issues of migration and identity.

“All my work deals with the idea of people moving, coming to the city where they try to make a living out of anything they come across,” he explains. “My designs are influenced by the way hawkers and street vendors transform discarded pieces of paper, cardboard and pallettes to create a place of work. To a large extent one can perceive street vending as an act of defiance against the city’s authorities who have, in a way, neglected them by keeping them isolated and marginalised.”

It’s a message that came across loud and clear to the judging panel, led by Gwen Miller. The panel said Ngobese’s work shows a society in flux, adding:“This is a social order of migrants, who have to take up their belongings and make them fit into any vehicle or, metaphorically, any culture, to be able to move on.”

Ngobese’s artwork is made from a discarded table, folded pieces of paper (inspired by muti wrappings) and fabric from a bag similar to that which migrants carry. The work is named ­after and inspired by Warwick Triangle street vendor Mamkhize, who often shared her experiences with the artist.

The Gerard Sekoto Award is given to the most promising artist with an income of less than R60 000 per annum. The prize includes a three-month sabbatical at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris; French-language classes and nationwide touring exhibitions sponsored by the French Embassy, French Institute and the ­Alliance Française; airfare and free access to galleries and museums in Paris. As one of the top 10 finalists in the competition, Ngobese will receive a R2 000 bonus prize.

Looking ahead to his stay in Paris, he said: “I can’t wait to see the art museums and to learn the culture of the French. My aim is to try to really discover who I am as an artist and to broaden my horizons.”

Selected works by L’Atelier finalists and that of the overall winner in this year’s competition — Ilka van Schalkwyk from Pretoria who created the new-media installation Reading Colour, will go on tour nationally. Her prize includes R110 000 in cash and a six-month sabbatical at the Cité in Paris. Merit Awards worth R25 000 were awarded to Abri de Swardt, Philiswa Lila, Collen Maswanganyi and Hanje Whitehead.

This year, the Absa L’Atelier Art Awards competition celebrates its 25th anniversary. The competition is open to young artists between the ages of 21 and 35.

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