Pfunzo Sidogi, lecturer at the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, has beennamed Deputy Chairperson of the prestigious Sasol New Signatures Artcompetition and handpicked as a judge for the Sanlam Portrait Award.
IN ADDITION TO THE PRIZE MONEY (R100 000 FOR THE WINNER), HOW WOULD YOU ENCOURAGE SOMEONE TO ENTER FOR THE SASOL NEW SIGNATURES ART COMPETITION?
Competitions are a critical stepping stone for artists who are serious about maintaining sustainable careers within the highly competitive visual arts industry. Although winning the first prize is fantastic, the main aim for entrants should be making it into the final judging round (i.e. the top 100). This has two benefits, first, being selected for the final judging round means the artwork will be exhibited at the Pretoria Art Museum and will, therefore, be exposed to thousands of viewers, among them art critics, journalists, gallerists, art dealers, etc. Secondly, the artwork will be included in the competition’s catalogue, which is an annual archive of the best artistic output in South Africa. Competitions like the Sasol New Signatures are wonderful platforms for artists to annex themselves into the visual art market value chain.
THIS YEAR’S THEME IS LIMITLESS. TELL US MORE.
The ethos of the competition, like that of Sasol, the main sponsor, is to encourage artists to stretch the bounds of creativity within their art. The Limitless tagline is an assurance to artists that the competition organisers and the range of judges who have been appointed will not confine artists to a particular aesthetic or artistic trope. In other words, artists have the imaginative licence to delve into the infinite cosmos of creativity.
TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE PREVIOUS WINNERS WHO HAVE BECOME ESTABLISHED ARTISTS.
The Sasol New Signatures Art competition has contributed towards launching the careers of some of the most important artists in the visual arts fraternity, both locally and internationally. Candice Breitz (merit winner, 1992), Marco Cianfanelli (merit winner, 1992), Kathryn Smith (first prize, 1999), Gavin Rooke (winner, 2007), and Mohau Modisakeng (winner, 2011) are some of the previous winners who have become internationally acclaimed practitioners. For example, both Mohau Madisakeng and Candice Breitz were part of the South Africa pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, Italy, which is universally recognised as the most significant art event in the world.
However, I must once again emphasise that the competition has also launched sustainable careers for artists who entered but did not eventually win or obtain a merit prize. There are numerous academics, curators, arts administrators, gallerists, etc., who used the competition as a platform to improve their career prospects. For example, Pieter Binsbergen, the current National Chairperson of Sasol New Signatures, who is also an Associate Professor at the Nelson Mandela University, was one of the 68 finalists in 1990. Prof Binsbergen did not win the competition, but still went on to become an important artist and academic.
IT’S THE COMPETITION’S 30 YEAR ANNIVERSARY. IS ANYTHING SPECIAL PLANNED TO CELEBRATE THIS MILESTONE?
The competition was officially established in 1961, however, this year marks 30 years of Sasol’s involvement as the main sponsor. In 1990, Sasol became the title sponsor of the New Signatures and since then, the competition has grown to become one of the marquee art events in South Africa. Through Sasol’s generous backing, the competition has introduced several innovations that have contributed to the growth of the visual arts in South Africa. As part of the 30th anniversary of Sasol’s involvement in the competition, the Association of Arts Pretoria is planning an exhibition that will feature the artworks of previous winners and finalists.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE AS DEPUTY CHAIRPERSON OF THE COMPETITION?
Together with the National Chair, Prof Pieter Binsbergen, my role as Deputy Chairperson is to promote the competition at the nationwide information sessions, to oversee the judging process at both the regional and final rounds, and finally, to act as an ambassador for the competition.
YOU HAVE ALSO BEEN SELECTED AS A JUDGE FOR THE SANLAM PORTRAIT AWARD. WHAT IS THIS AWARD ALL ABOUT AND WHAT WILL THE WINNER RECEIVE?
The Sanlam Portrait Award was introduced to the South African art community in 2013. It is a bi-annual art competition that celebrates and acknowledges artists who create non-digital, two-dimensional portraits, i.e. photographs or software generated images are not permitted. The winner receives R100 000 and logistical assistance to participate in the UK based BP Portrait Award, which is the premier global art portraiture competition. The top 40 portraits will be included in a special catalogue and the artworks will be exhibited at the Rust-en-Vrede gallery in Durbanville, Cape Town.
AS A JUDGE, WHAT DISTINGUISHES A WINNING ARTWORK? IS IT A GUT FEELING/OR ARE YOU LOOKING PURELY AT TECHNIQUE ETC.?
The famed artist, poet, and academic, Pitika Ntuli, notes that a good artwork should always evoke two slightly contradictory feelings for the viewer. The first response should be: “Wow, this artwork is so good, why did I not think of doing that.” But, conversely, the follow up response should be: “Wow, this artwork is so good that I could have never thought of doing that.” As judges, we are looking for artworks that will conjure this aesthetic experience, wherein we marvel at its conceptual narrative, its formal attributes, and its overall execution. In simple terms, the criteria we use to evaluate an artwork considers its conceptual depth, technical proficiency, and presentation.