MTN & UJ Emerging Artist Announced

Conversing the Land curated by Annali Dempsey (UJ) and Katlego Lefine (MTN) opened at the UJ Gallery, Auckland Park Campus, University of Johannesburg, and the winner of the joint MTN and UJ Emerging Artist Development Programme was announced.

Conversing the Land, an exhibition of landscapes from the permanent collections of the MTN Foundation and the University of Johannesburg (UJ), as well as landscapes by the ten selected artists from the joint MTN and UJ Emerging Artist Development Programme, opened on 22 October at the UJ Gallery in Auckland Park. The exhibition is curated by Annali Dempsey, curator of the University of Johannesburg art collection and Katlego Lefine, MTN Graduate of the MTN Foundation’s art collection.

At the opening event final year Wits fine arts student Siyabonga Mahlaba was announced the winner of the Emerging Artist Development Programme. Mahlaba, working in the medium of photography, impressed the judging panel with his digital diptych, Re-formed I & II, two monochrome images projecting an eerie ambience representing the disparities between the buildings of two congregations of the Dutch Reformed Church (NGK) in his hometown Bethlehem. In Mahlaba’s rendition the building of the white congregation emerges structurally superior to that of the black congregation. In actual fact the latter became a safety thread “due to poor construction and had to be demolished and rebuild,” Mahlaba says. In his exploration of the ways ideologies inform architecture Mahlaba comments in Reformed I & II on “how Christianity is at odds with itself – how racism is/was both perpetuated and condemned in its name”.

He lists Santu Mofokeng, David Goldblatt, Ernest Cole and Sabelo Mlangeni as photographers whose work he turns for inspiration.

“Mahlaba succeeded in presenting faceless church goers against the physical decline of places of worship in a most ephemeral and haunting way alluding to the disparity between racism and religion, but also with the hope of reconstruction/rebuilding”, said Dempsey.

Lefine observed that “the artwork expresses a personal account of something sacred, shared/communal and specific to a certain location in the landscape”.

The Emerging Artist Development Programme invited artists through public advertising to submit an artwork in response to, or in conversation with, modern and contemporary South African landscapes, thereby offering a platform to showcase their talent and interpretation of contemporary South African land issues.

The work of ten artists were selected from the entries – apart from Mahlaba also Neil Badenhorst, Lebo Magolego, Setlamorago Mashilo, Tebogo Moche, Michelle Monareng, Nico Ras, Shayna Rosendorff, Selwyn Steyn and Devlin Tim.

The work produced by the ten artists – with a focus on digital media (photography, video and printmaking), only one painting and one piece of sculpture – centred on the impact from an ecological perspective (mining and its consequences, socio-economic issues) left by humans on the land as well as an examining of identity and the inner landscape. “Most of the works present a strong sense of memory and yearning,” Dempsey added.

As winner Mahlaba earned R30 000 in prize money and the other nine artists received R3 000 each.

The judging panel of this second Emerging Artist Development Programme (the programme coincided with Continuing Conversations that focused on portraiture) consisted of Katlego Lefine and Annali Dempsey, the two curators, Ingha Mago and Jordan Hance, two of the three mentees, Rika Nortje, project manager of the Conversing the Land project and Mia van Schalkwyk, UJ Art Gallery assistant.

In an exhibition with discerning curation the ten landscapes by the emerging artists form an integral part of this exhibition, commenting on the way the landscape is being perceived – also within the context of technologies emerging and affecting our lives.

Conversing the Land is at the UJ Gallery, Auckland Park, Johannesburg, until 27 November 2019.

For more information contact Annali Dempsey at resolution images of some of the artworks are available on WeTransfer.


UJ Arts & Culture, a division of the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA) produces and presents world-class student and professional arts programmes aligned to the UJ vision of an international university of choice, anchored in Africa, dynamically shaping the future. A robust range of arts platforms are offered on all four UJ campuses for students, staff, alumni and the general public to experience and engage with emerging and established Pan-African and international artists drawn from the full spectrum of the arts.

In addition to UJ Arts & Culture, FADA ( offers programmes in eight creative disciplines, in Art, Design and Architecture, as well as playing home to the NRF SARChI Chair in South African Art & Visual Culture, and the Visual Identities in Art & Design Research Centre. The Faculty has a strong focus on sustainability and relevance, and engages actively with the dynamism, creativity and diversity of Johannesburg in imagining new approaches to art and design education.