Meet the three recipients of Barclays L’Atelier Merit Awards for 2016.
Does it matter who is speaking?
Onyis Martin of Kenya has won one of three merit awards (a three-month Bag Factory residency) at the 2016 Barclays L’Atelier for his piece, Does it matter who is speaking?
Martin is a Nairobi-based artist who uses multimedia to create diverse art pieces. He has done a number of courses in art and craft, as well as teaching these at the Mukuru Art and Craft Centre. In 2014 and 2015, Martin won awards to exhibit in Taiwan at the Taipei International Art Competition. He has participated locally in a number of group exhibitions, including the Kenya Art Fair and the Circle Art Gallery’s exhibitions Paper II in Nairobi, both in 2015.
The doorway in Does it matter who is speaking? is used as a metaphor to inquire into human perceptions of gender. Perception is not the passive receipt of signals but is shaped by culture, recollection, intentions and attention. The figures are letters; by extension words, which assume gender perceptions that have been conditioned by the society over time. The exit and entry points are subjective and the factual observations still do not guarantee the same perspective.
Affirmative action for either gender is a form of inequality, one is limited by what they are perceived to be and gender is a kind of war. Some figures are confused, some are female, others male and even mixed, seemingly asking, does it matter who is speaking?
‘Generally, my process is more about conceptualising my ideas. Usually things that affect me personally, but then I know my story is the story of everybody or a group of people… Then I look at what possible medium is the best way to present my concept, particularly, this involves going to places where there’s demolition and stuff, getting the doors – sometimes for free. Its also about assemblage, you pick pieces and then you assemble… I’m usually trying to break the old rule of “this is the way the art work should be represented”… I’m more into: can we have more ways of communication? Sometimes you get into your comfort zone and then you sit there. Physically, I try to create it but mentally I’m breaking free. I’m in a war with myself, the physical and the mental trying to outdo each other.’
Maali Ya Muswangali
Donald Wasswa of Uganda has been awarded one of three merit awards (a two-month residency Kunst:Raum Foundation, Sylt Quelle, Germany) at the 2016 Barclays L’Atelier for his work Maali Ya Muswangali.
Wasswa is a full-time, practicing contemporary artist who traces his talent from his father. He graduated from Kyambogo University where he majored in sculpture and painting. Wasswa prefers to be called an artist without boundaries, he creates his work through experiments studying the behaviours of different materials in relation to his subjects.
Wasswa is the founder of the Artpunch Studio where he works with a number of different artists, ranging from photographers, musicians, poets, fashion designers, ceramists and sculptors. Wasswa is also a member of the weaver bird artist village and he strongly believes that each art discipline greatly contributes to the strength of the other, so working together with other artists is enough to be inspired to create.
‘This work is called Maali ya Muswangali,’ says Wasswa. ‘Maali means “money” and Muswangali is the name of a person in Uganda; a guy. I created his story from an actual story of a guy who comes from the village; he has never been to Kampala. He is contacted by a friend, in Kampala, and told that he can actually make ends meet by selling his maize.
So he has to organise transport and find a way of getting the maize up to Kampala… on the way his maize gets misplaced or stolen. He then tries to follow up and realises it is in Kenya, but on the border of Kenya and Uganda. After some time, they get the bags back into Kampala but when they get back to Kampala, its not the maize inside, it is trash. So the guy is disappointed because expectations are not met, chasing home and trying to find out if it’s worth coming to Kampala. So the whole piece is about our expectations.’
O mogeng lebo, Nomo
Lebo Rasenyalo has been awarded a one-month residency at the Ampersand Foundation at the 2016 Barclays L’Atelier for her video O mogeng lebo, Nomo.
South African Lebo Rasenyalo obtained her BA (Dramatic Arts) from the University of the Witwatersrand. She is presently completing her Post Graduate Certificate in Education from UNISA. In O mogeng lebo, Nomo, Rasenyalo depicts a creator, who is the subject of the work. The exercise reveals the possibility of the product, the subject and the creator all being interchangeable. She is interested in the reflexive products and confronts the costuming and discourse of her body.
For the 2016 Barclays L’Atelier competition, Rasenyalo worked with the intention of elevating the imagery to something of her own making; the conscious understanding of herself is layered with rituals of existing in urban, aspirational spaces. Rasenyalo is interested in pursuing an authentic expression of herself contrary to her performed existence.
She says, ‘the black person has continued to perform in order to maintain the economic relationship where the employer was historically white. The African person also further continued to suppress cultural practices to exist in the urban environment.’ Her pursuit is the need to define and present her actual existence.
‘I hope to one day achieve true authentic self but to do so and to get there, I still have to engage with my history. Where my people have come from in workspaces, I have to understand that for them to aspire to be in places; what they have had to suppress and sacrifice of themselves, I do have to search for my identity on various levels of consciousness. I find that in that search you have to go back to texts written by Europeans, once again, which are mediated. Which speaks back to the ethics of the mediator affecting the output but I still have to rely on those texts to get to know myself. So it’s fragmented but I’m aspiring still. The landscapes, while it’s a space I aspire to go to, also represent workspaces for my ancestors. So I’m still not free, even though I am. I still have to deal with that reality.’
For more information on the 2016 Barclays L’Atelier competition, visit the website.