This November sees five of South Africa’s most innovative and talented artistic individuals being awarded one of the country’s most sought-after arts prizes. Jefferson Tshabalala, Sisonke Xonti, Lulu Mlangeni, Blessing Ngobeni and Nthato Mokgata join the ranks of the Standard Bank Young Artists.
Since its inception in 1981, the Standard Bank Young Artist Awards (SBYAA) have served as a marker for the kind of artistic work that’s being created, and aspired towards, across the country. This year’s batch of winners proves that the legacy of the SBYAA is still one of passion, dedication, and a desire to carve out new ways of creating and engaging with art and the world around us.
At a ceremony in Johannesburg, the 2020 SBYAA winners were announced. The winners are Jefferson Tshabalala (Theatre), Sisonke Xonti (Jazz), Lulu Mlangeni (Dance), Blessing Ngobeni (Art) and Nthato Mokgata (Music).
This year marks 36 years of Standard Bank’s sponsorship of the SBYAA and sees each of these young artists receiving a cash incentive, as well as a commission to premiere a new work or exhibit on the Main Programme of the 46th National Arts Festival, taking place in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) from 25 June to 5 July 2020.
About the artists:
Jefferson Tshabalala is a writer, director, performer, and the founder and owner of the live arts production house, Kiri Pink Nob Arts (Pty) Ltd. Tshabalala merges poetry, hip-hop, comedy, and traditional dramatic arts to communicate nuanced and far-reaching stories. His recent work Ekasi Lam – An Ode to Kwaito premiered at the 2019 National Arts Festival.
Sisonke Xonti is a jazz saxophonist, composer, and bandleader. A passionate collaborator, Xonti has worked with, and performed alongside, artists such as Hugh Masekela, Lira, Bokani Dyer, and Simphiwe Dana to name a few. His full-length album, Iyonde, was released in 2017.
Lulu Prudence Mlangeni is a dancer, teacher, and choreographer. Mlangeni’s practice incorporates a strong element of texture to the art of movement and has seen her perform on stages across the world. Her recent dance piece, CONFINED, is inspired by the life political stalwart, Winnie Madikizela Mandela.
Blessing Ngobeni is a fine artist who strives to simultaneously uplift others, while challenging the status quo through his art. Through the use of painting, sculpture, video, audio installations and live performance, Ngobeni speaks truth to power, continually highlighting and questioning corrupted systems of power in South Africa. Ngobeni also mentors and provides support for young artists.
Nthato Mokgata, also known by his stage name Spoek Mathambo, is a musician, artist, producer, rapper, and singer-songwriter. Through his solo career and projects such as Batuk and Fantasma, Mathambo has toured the globe extensively. He is also the director of Future Sounds of Mzansi, a documentary exploring South Africa’s cultural landscape, 20 years into democracy.
Associate Producer of the National Arts Festival, Nobesuthu Rayi, explains that in addition to their high calibre of work, each young artist speaks to the status quo of the industry through their work.
‘On behalf of the Festival, we congratulate the 2020 SBYAs, they are all deserving artists whose body of work speaks for itself,’ says Rayi. ‘I have noticed with interest that all these artists are aware of the status quo of our arts industry in SA and they have strong opinions on the matter. To all the 2020 SBYAs, gqamani njengeenkwenkwezi enizizo. Shine like the stars you are.’
Chairperson of the Artistic Committee, Brett Bailey, adds that awards like this give public validation to artists, providing them with the opportunity and confidence to spread their artistic wings. ‘They give a highly visible platform to the winners to showcase their work and to lift them from their crowded field, and the funding to make something new,’ says Bailey.
For Standard Bank, who has sponsored the award since 1984, the award presents an opportunity to continue nurturing platforms and artists who give rise to the creative economy of South Africa.
Desiree Pooe, Head of Group Sponsorships at Standard Bank, says: ‘The curatorial committee looks for artists that have already proved themselves with a track record of work of high artistic quality that stands out within their field; artists who have a strong vision. It is important for us to continue nurturing such platforms so that they are able to continue sharing their talent with not only our country, but the world at large, which we have witnessed in many of our SBYAs both current and past.’
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