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Exclusive conversations with the top 5 breakthrough artists

Some artworks offered insights into the particular conditions and contexts from the artist’s countries of origin, others offered pressing political issues regarding land ownership in South Africa, and challenging fixed gender roles was again a prominent theme in this year’s Absa L’Atelier #GiveArtLight competitionAbsa L’Atelier has been shining a light on promising young African artists’ work for over 33 years. Not only do the awards identify bright young talent but they provide a solid foundation for the further growth of these artist’s potential, giving them the opportunity to step into the spotlight on the world stage. Have a look at the 2018 winners:

Absa L’Atelier winner – Embodiment 

‘I have grown up with various medical conditions regarding Chronic Kidney Disease, which still continues to this present day. My work is investigated by the internal workings (or the disappointment) of my own body. The materials I use in my art installations, such as various body fluids (urine), copper and glass, represent the ephemeral nature of my body, and therefore the materials that, over time, decay, reminding viewers of their own visceral flesh. My work references how the body is rendered abject through the psychological effects of the medical industry, specifically my own body. Embodiment attempts to strengthen and dignify my body that has become an object and instrument of the medical institution. In this work, my presence is rendered through using this substance that references my medical condition’ – Marguerite Kirsten, Absa L’Atelier winner.

Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award winner – Self-Titled

Philiswa Lila was born in 1988 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa and is currently pursuing her MA degree in Art History at Rhodes University. She holds a B. Tech degree in Fine and Applied Art from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and an Honours Degree in Curatorship from the University of Cape Town. ‘This artwork is based on the concept of self. Self is the working relationship that touches on a number of concerns that pertain to visibility, belonging, location, knowledge & understanding. Self-Titled refers to my name which is loosely translated as “be healed”. Healing is taken from “Indigenous” thinkers, doers and leaders in African knowledge and understanding, thinking, knowing and doing. The notion of healing in my work deals with how I am interested in body, identity, ritual, religion, politics, etc. Therefore, I use my own name to explore the nuances of language, meaning and experiences of individualism within a community framework. By this I mean, a name of a person carries with it different narratives in relation to their surroundings. Self-Titled is a project about individual experiences as recognisable or familiar to collective frameworks of culture – mainly in isiXhosa but also aware of the interconnectedness of cultures in South Africa’ – Philiswa Lila, Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award winner.

Absa L’Atelier First Merit Award winner – Seat of Honour

Stacey Gillian Abe’s concepts highlight the mind’s suppleness as seen as autobiographical and drawn from past experiences; they attempt to critique stereotypical depictions of her as a black woman. These materialise into created imagined spaces that instigate a surreal mystical feel to the work at their best borne of two realms contrasting and complementing each other. The work probes unsettling narratives on the subject of identity and gender. ‘I am not who I believe to be, I am lacked to a place of influence to hunt deep inside for my soul. I am torn between what is and what could be. As I conjure and manifest my inner being, I encounter and come to be that which you must only feel, only see, through my eyes. But fertility and loss of youth, the urge to keep my ripeness, is traded for my sanity and sanctity. I will take the throne with all might and blistering pain and seat on my vaginas, my womanly essence and feel them pressed hard against my balls’ – Stacey Gillian Abe, Absa L’Atelier First Merit Award winner.

Absa L’Atelier Second Merit Award winner – Recycle Frame 2

‘The work is basically a capture of a drainage path for a bath that is printed onto a handmade paper with the use of bamboo. The bamboo was selected when capturing the site of the photograph and it was re-used in a different state as a support for my work. The shaped edges were abducted from drawings from cracked walls I see mostly on the outdoor bath and it was done specifically to bring that idea from one space to the other. I am an artist from Ghana and live and work in Kumasi. I was born on the 1st January 1993 and completed my basic education in Kumasi, then attended the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, where I focused on sculpture, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Art in May 2016.  I’m from the Ashanti tribe and speak a dialect call Twi. After studying, I worked as a teaching assistant to a paper-making lecturer. I then interned with Mary Hark, Professor in Design Studies at the University of Wisconsin, when she was working in her studio in Ghana. I am inspired by the way that people in the area find creative ways to adapt to the environment. This is often done by sourcing or repurposing materials from the same space. While people are answering a basic need, they are also telling their own stories. The individuals in the community therefore solve problems in artistic ways – sometimes even subconsciously – and this has inspired me to make work using materials and repurposing them so that I can tell my own story. I also love music and am a commercial photographer’ – Henry Obeng, Absa L’Atelier Second Merit Award winner.

Absa L’Atelier Third Merit Award winner – Patterns

Kirsten Eksteen was born in 1995 in Cape Town, South Africa and was the first person to pursue art as a subject at Grassdale Secondary School. She attended the Peter Clarke Art Centre between 2011 and 2014. She is currently working towards a BA Honours at Michaelis School of Fine Art and is on the UCT Deans Merit List. ‘Pattern-making stands as the blueprint in the garment development process. The body of works consists of five life-size rails with hanging metal patterns. The patterns are cut from sheet metal and hung on clothing hooks. The entire installation captures themes of erosion, erasure, restoration and preservation. Here erosion is seen as a generative force. The patterns being life size appear as these pseudo bodies which much like human bodies require salt to survive. Salt eats away at the metal yet at the same time the salt desperately aims to preserve the trade and the body that is the pattern. The absurd notion of preservation through erosion therefore occurs. The visual dialogue that occurs between metal and salt is what interests me. The materiality of using salt also playfully links back to factory locations such as Salt River and Atlantis (clothing trade underwater). The metal prints will stand as preservation while the rusted installation echoes erosion’ – Kirsten Eksteen, Absa L’Atelier Third Merit Award winner.

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