The ongoing partnership between the MTN SA Foundation and the UJ Art Gallery supported by Business and Arts South Africa, saw the introduction, and launch of the MTN X UJ New Contemporary Awards earlier this year. Unique in their approach, the awards look at developing both the curator and the artists selected to participate.
This year Khanya Mashabela was awarded the curatorship of MTN X UJ New Contemporary Awards and since her appointment earlier this year she has been formulating her research, selection of artists and curatorial vision for the inaugural event to be held on 25 November 2022 at UJ Art Gallery.
The MTN X UJ New Contemporary Awards programme places an emphasis on developments in the digital arts sphere and this is where Mashabela had to focus her attention. Under the working title Object, she navigates the premise that given the speed and breadth of contemporary culture, definitive statements about what it means to be an artist in the South African context will quickly be made redundant. She looks to exploring identity as a construction which is both real and imagined, and which is communicated through objects in physical and virtual realms. Her selected artists take a variety of approaches to the project of identity construction, with the exhibition serving as a curated view of a cross-section of strategies.
“Though the internet has radically changed us, many of the concerns navigated via digital and lens-based media have existed long before then. I don’t intend the exhibition to examine the internet as something which is external to the ‘real’ world. Rather it will explore the relationship between selfhood and objecthood, in the contemporary context; a relationship which is often mediated through technology,” says Mashabela.
“What excites me the most about the relationship between the arts and technology is the accessibility it allows the general public to interact with the arts, and how our young curators, artists, academics and specialists will be the driving force behind this crucial intervention,” states Niel Nortje, Manager of MTN’s Art Collection.
The four artists selected as finalists for the MTN X UJ New Contemporary Awards Programme are Cape Town-based artists Inga Somdyala and Thandiwe Msebenzi, Callan Grecia working in George and Natalie Paneng based in Johannesburg.
“Mashabela’s final selection demonstrates her understanding of both the medium and the curatorial possibilities. We are excited about the work that these four artists will create for the exhibition in November. This award programme pushes the boundaries of curatorial practice; it is also about being bold, innovative and courageous”, says Thabo Seshoka, curator of the UJ Art Gallery.
Mashabela’s research was mainly conducted through artist-run online spaces including Floating Reveries and Bubblegum Club, as well as physical, artist-organised exhibitions and studio visits. Although the use of digital mediums and interactive art is established, and growing, in South Africa, one of the challenges Mashabela found in making her selection was that many technologically adept artists working with digital art as their primary medium had moved into fields such as marketing and tech rather than the visual arts.
In making her final decision Mashabela was supported by the Legacy Panel which consists of four previous MTN New Contemporaries Award curators: Dr Kathryn Smith, Dr Portia Malatjie, Nontobeko Ntombela and Khwezi Gule with Melissa Goba as the panel convener.
“Though Natalie Paneng and Callan Grecia use very different tools, they are both interested in mediated personal identities – the aesthetic choices we make as we represent ourselves and our environments virtually,” states Mashabela.
She continues, “Thandiwe Msebenzi takes a more historical approach in the Radical Makaza, a project in tribute to her aunt’s personal history, the project was prototyped on Instagram with Msebenzi using clothes and landscapes along with digital filters to recreate and invent an identity, with an atmosphere of historicity.”
“Inga Somdyala’s approach is more abstract than the other artists, but he too is exploring material culture and the ability of objects to act as a fundamental part of selfhood, though he is more explicit about his interest in a broader national identity. Somdyala’s works have more in common with early video art, which often relied on the relatively ‘low-tech’ of lone performer engaging with the camera. Somdyala also chooses extremely tactile objects which reasserts the power of physicality,” she concludes.
Over the coming months the four artists, guided by Mashabela’s vision will create an artwork to be exhibited at the MTN x UJ New Contemporary Awards on 25 November 2022 at the UJ Art Gallery.
NOTES TO THE EDITORS
MTN x UJ New Contemporary Awards Finalists’ Biographies
Inga Somdyala is a visual artist born in Queenstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa, living and working in Cape Town. He completed his MFA at the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2019. Through his work, he explores both the personal and socio-political, navigating the complexities faced by the post-apartheid generation. Somdyala works in a variety of media including print, installation, performance, and video, creating an evocative and tactile response to South Africa’s visual identity and history, as it intersects with his own lived experience.
Thandiwe Msebenzi has a lens-based practice in which she recreates memories and dreamscapes, using a visual culture which is often specific to her familial home in the rural Eastern Cape. In 2014, she completed her BFA from Michaelis School of Fine Art. She is currently working on a series titled Radical Makaza, a series of narratives about Msebenzi’s aunt and her journey of moving to Cape Town and finding independence during apartheid. This story is interwoven with Msebenzi’s own. The photographs and videos explore the subtle ways that Black women’s experiences have been rendered invalid or invisible within the overarching South African historical narrative, and the radical ways that they have resisted this erasure.
Callan Grecia was born in Durban, South Africa and currently lives and works in George, South Africa. In 2017 he completed his MFA in painting at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. His artistic style is a synthesis of old and new, simultaneously taking visual cues from television and cubism, online visual culture and the sentimental styles of comic book and outsider artists in the 1990s. Rather than attempting to justify the continued relevance of painting, Grecia is preoccupied with explorations of ‘bad’ painting, using its associative power to seduce the audience through a globalised, millennial nostalgia. Though Grecia is represented by SMAC he has not had major exhibitions outside of the gallery.
Natalie Paneng received her BA in Dramatic Arts from the University of Witwatersrand in 2018. Her artistic practice makes use of both her self-taught digital skills and theatre background. She explores what it means to have an online presence, the personas we develop online and how the Internet and its algorithms control and influence us and our perceived reality. Paneng is a self-described world-builder and sees her growing practice as a way to navigate, share and archive imagined, and alternative realities brought to life through digital artistic process.
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This project is supported by Business and Arts South Africa (BASA)
FURTHER NOTES TO THE EDITOR
About UJ Arts & Culture
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 University of Johannesburg 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 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 being home to the NRF SARChI Chair in South African Art and Visual Culture, and the Visual Identities in Art & Design Research Centre.
About the MTN SA Foundation
The MTN SA Foundation’s purpose is to bring about meaningful, measurable, and sustainable change that helps disadvantaged and rural communities to become self-sufficient. With a focus on innovative technology, we aim to uplift communities towards independence in this bold new digital world.
In the years since its launch, the MTN Art Collection has evolved into an appreciating corporate asset which facilitates dialogue between both artists and art lovers from different backgrounds, cultures, and genres, contributing to ensuring that South Africa’s rich cultural heritage is passed from one generation to another. The Foundation will continue to support the creative industry and look for ways to integrate digital solutions into its art collection management. It has also committed to exploring ways in which digital solutions can be used for teaching and learning in the creative sector.
About Business and Arts South Africa
BUSINESS AND ARTS SOUTH AFRICA NPC (BASA) was founded in 1997 as a joint initiative between government and the private sector as part of a strategy to secure greater involvement in the arts and from businesses operating in South Africa. Constituted in terms of the Companies Act, BASA is registered as a public benefit organisation. BASA champions business investment within the arts, cultural and heritage sector, driving focused and sustained partnerships by unlocking shared value and fostering social cohesion. For more information, please go to www.basa.co.za.