Born in 1982, Maral Bolouri has a BA (Fine Arts) from Tehran University of Art, as well as an MA in International Contemporary Art and Design Practice. She has participated in a number of group exhibitions in Kenya, the United States of America, Kuala Lumpur and Tehran. She was a top 100 finalist in the 2015 Absa L’Atelier competition. Her winning artwork, Mothers and Others investigates representations of women in African oral traditions. This multi-sensory, interactive installation explores the power of proverbs by juxtaposing negative and positive depictions of women in cultural truisms. These adages overwhelmingly portray women as helpless imbeciles, except for when the sayings espouse women’s reproductive potential as mothers. Through three metaphorical structures, Mothers and Others draws the audience’s attention to the negative and positive proverbs, as well as to the proverbs we have yet to imagine. In one structure, handmade iron cowbells, representing the objectification of women and bearing examples of negative proverbs, hang from a giant stool. Underneath, a small altar holds the few positive proverbs about women, related almost exclusively to motherhood, surrounded by extinguished candles. The third – a blank board – invites the audience to contribute their own proverbs. The artist encourages the audience to interact with each structure.
Of Bolouri, Zihan Kassam, artist and art correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya, says, ‘from the overwhelming restrictions in Tehran to the growing freedom of artistic expression in Kenya, Bolouri has found a small platform in Nairobi, where she can express the senselessness of certain norms that persist in society. Subtly expressing the thoughts that many of us think but don’t dare voice, this bold, observant artist doesn’t care if she has to dance alone… ‘In her discourse and all through her artwork, Maral Bolouri is a bona-fide minimalist, a refreshing, careful, introspective creature who will win you over with just a few choice statements and image placements.’ As the overall winner, Bolouri walks away with a six-month residency in the studio apartment at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris from January to June 2018, a return ticket to Paris, and R300 000 to use to study while in residence. Following her residency, Bolouri will present a solo exhibition at the Absa Gallery in Johannesburg. In addition, all top ten finalists are placed on a two-day art professionalism course to assist them in managing their careers. Each finalist will also be paired with a mentor who will work with them for a year.
Read more about the 2017 L’Atelier Competition winners here:
Overall winner, Maral Bolouri – Of Mothers and Others
Gerard Sekoto Award winner, Banele Khoza – Lonely Nights, Temporary Feelings and Note Making
First Merit Award winner, Priscilla Kennedy – Unpacking social stereotypes
Second Merit Award winner, Wilhelmina Nell – ‘A sickening symbol of sloth’
Third Merit Award winner, Manyatsa Monyamane – Powerful voices reclaiming their spaces