Absa, in partnership with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA), launched the new-look Absa L’Atelier to identify and nurture the rich artistic talent across Africa by giving the next generation of artists the grounding and skills they need to bring their possibilities to life, build sustainable careers and give art light – this year’s theme.
Entering its 34th year, Absa L’Atelier has built a strong legacy as a platform that allows the dynamic, inspiring and young visual artists of our continent to shine. ‘Established during the peak of apartheid, it soon gained prominence as one of the few platforms for visual artists to gain exposure locally and internationally. It has solidified that reputation in the intervening years,’ says Dr Paul Bayliss, Absa Art & Museum Curator.
As a way of building on this legacy and to ensure that it remains at the cutting edge of the evolving art world as well as provide Africa’s promising up-and-coming artists with the right type of support, Absa L’Atelier has made several changes to its approach.
Key changes include the adjudication process, which has been streamlined and taken online to reflect Absa’s shift to becoming a digitally led bank. There is now one tier of adjudication that allows entrants – aged 21 to 40 – to submit a portfolio of work made up of a minimum of four and a maximum of five pieces of work. All adjudication is now done on the designated digital platform.
What’s more, entrants from the 12 African countries that the competition is open to, (Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia) will be placed in the group that they get drawn into. Each of the 12 countries will be drawn into a group of four and will compete in that particular group.
The victors from each group will become ambassadors and will get a simultaneous one-month residency in Paris. Partners from Cité Internationale des Arts and Alliance Française will offer critical support by mentoring the ambassadors, helping teach them French, facilitating meetings and connecting them to other artists. ‘Absa L’ Atelier plays a critical role in supporting different visual dialogues and strengthening the presence of the artist within the African and European continents,’ says SANAVA President, Avitha Sooful.
Ambassadors will then be brought back to Gauteng for a two-month residency that will give them time to work towards an exhibition featuring their own work and work made in collaboration with each other, which will open at the Absa Gallery in Johannesburg and then travel to their respective home countries. This will help fast-track their careers by shining a spotlight on their work in multiple markets. During the two-month residency in Johannesburg, the artists will also receive a weekly Art Masterclass to help them hone their skills. These Art Masterclasses will be filmed and published online as a way to share knowledge.
The invaluable experience gained from the residencies and exhibitions and mentorship from renowned industry experts will form the core prize. ‘We believe in nurturing the incredible talent we have in our own backyard in Africa by passing on priceless skills and knowledge that these young artists can use to build successful long-term careers,’ Bayliss says.
In addition to the three ambassadors, thanks to the Alliance Francaise in South Africa, the French Embassy in South Africa and the Institut Français d’Afrique du Sud, the Absa L’Atelier will continue to support a South African artist that continues to demonstrate growth in their art production through the Gerard Sekoto award. The winner of the Gerard Sekoto will be awarded a three-month residency at the Cite Internationale des Arts and a travelling exhibition through the Alliance Francais network in South Africa.
Absa L’Atelier’s changing face means artists’ works will be reinterpreted and curated through a more Pan-African lens that will ensure they get the exposure they need to help bring their possibilities to light. This focus ties in with Absa’s commitment to the continent, which is encapsulated in its Africanacity concept.
‘Africanacity speaks to the distinctly African ability to find creative ways to get things done – and Absa L’Atelier wants to celebrate this ingenuity by providing African talent the platforms necessary to bring their possibilities to life,’ says Bayliss. ‘Absa L’Atelier also hopes that providing these platforms will create a generation of ambassadors that will, in turn, go on to mentor younger artists.’
Africa’s young artists should embrace the opportunity that L’Atelier provides and use the colour and inspiration that the continent offers to hone their craft and tell truly African stories. ‘If you’re eligible to enter, you should throw your hat in the ring, because you can’t develop as an artist if you don’t try – and at the very least, you will learn from the experience,’ he concludes.