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Absa L’Atelier: 34 years of crafting a new spotlight for African artists

With registrations for the 34th Absa L’Atelier opening on 1 March 2019, Creative Feel remembers some of the artists who have been honoured with this coveted prize and the significant impact it had on their young careers.

Absa L'Atelier 35 years gallery art competition
Penny Siopis, Melancholia, 1986. Oil on canvas

Over the past 34 years, the Absa L’Atelier has showcased arguably some of the best fine artists in South Africa and, since 2015, from across the continent.
     In 1986, Volkskas Bank and the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA) partnered to start a new and exciting art competition, the Volkskas Bank Atelier Competition (now the Absa L’Atelier), and awarded a young Penny Siopis with a residency at the Cité International des Arts in Paris.
     At the time, Siopis was already establishing herself as one of the most talented and challenging visual artists in and beyond South Africa. Her winning piece, Melancholia, is now iconic. It plays an integral role in art curricula across the country, and is now a proud piece in the Johannesburg Art Gallery’s collection.
     Siopis’ prolific body of work from the last four decades is critically lauded and housed in public and private collections across the globe. She has won a multitude of awards, fellowships, residencies and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Rhodes University in 2017. Siopis has exhibited, both solo and in group exhibitions, across the globe in countries such as Germany, Spain, Portugal, the UK, Greece, Denmark, France, the USA, Mexico, Cuba, Lebanon, South Korea, China and Mauritius.
     In addition to being one of South Africa’s most successful artists working today, Siopis is invested in the development of the next generation of artists and is currently an honorary professor at Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. She has lectured at the University of the Witwatersrand and the Natal Technikon in Durban, South Africa, and has had research and teaching associations with the University of Leeds, UK, and Umeå University in Sweden.
     The Absa L’Atelier has served as a platform to launch many artistic careers. In fact, it is not easy to find an Absa L’Atelier winner who has not made a successful career for themselves since receiving the award. Many have gone on to exhibit across the globe, to win numerous other awards, and to have their works purchased for important private and public collections.
     Over the past three decades, the Absa L’Atelier has provided a multitude of young artists with the support, recognition and exposure needed to cement their burgeoning careers, and provided a permanent home for them at the Absa Gallery. Registrations for the 2019 Absa L’Atelier open on 1 March, so watch this space or visit for more information.

To read more about 34 years of Absa L’Atelier purchase the February 2019 issue of Creative Feel or, to continue supporting our role in the South African arts and culture sector, subscribe to our monthly magazine from only R180.00 per year!

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