27 October 2021

Fine Arts alumnus wins award in fairest Cape

Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku (34), an alumnus of the Tshwane University of Technology’s Department of Fine and Studio Arts, was named overall winner of the StateoftheART Gallery Award 202,1 hosted in Cape Town on 16 October. Noteworthy is that four of the ten shortlisted finalists for this year’s competition learnt the tricks of the trade at the Faculty of Arts and Design.

Alumni student Sylvester Zanoxolo Mqeku (34) is the overall winner of the StateoftheART Gallery Award 2021.

Sylvester bagged a R40 000 cash prize and a solo exhibition with the gallery in 2022. His winning works are entitled Carbon Generations and Manganese Particles.

Asked what the recognition means to him, he says: “It takes a lot of sacrifices to be an artist. This Award makes these sacrifices worthwhile and teaches me to stay strong in pursuing my journey as an artist.”

Sylvester was born in Mount Fletcher in the Eastern Cape.

In 2016, he graduated with a B Tech: Fine Art from TUT, majoring in Art Theory and Research Methodology, whilst exploring sand-cast ceramics. 

Working primarily with ceramics as a medium, his talent soon got noticed and he hosted Earthen, the first-ever public workshop on sand-cast ceramics at the Central University of Technology (CUT), Bloemfontein before being invited to participate in the exclusive ceramic artist residency in Vallauris, France in 2019. He was also commissioned by the Goethe Institute Johannesburg to develop his research into his innovative practice of sand-cast ceramics as part of Goethe Project Space (GPS). 

The StateoftheART Gallery Award, which was started in 2018, aims to champion contemporary art by emerging artists resident in South Africa, increasing exposure for their work, and encouraging further professional development opportunities. 

This year, entrants were asked to submit work to the theme On The Brink: Visualising Climate Change and were challenged to engage with the reality of the climate crisis and its impact within a South African context. 

Describing his winning works, which combinedly won the Award, Sylvester says it is symbolic of the effects of something dehydrated by extreme heat. “It is, in fact, a trigger, not in a scary way, to visualise what a dead world would look like, almost like props in an apocalypse movie,” he adds.

Sylvester’s winning entries, entitled Carbon Generations (left) and Manganese Particles (right).

He fondly remembers his days as a student at TUT and says it was Fine Arts lecturer and celebrated installation artist, Dr Jan van de Merwe, who convinced him to study at TUT when they met a couple of years ago at one of Dr van der Merwe’s exhibitions, entitled Time and Space, at the Oliewenhuis Art Museum in Bloemfontein where Sylvester worked at the time. He adds that TUT’s Prof Ingrid Stevens (late), Catherine Terblanche, as well as Dr Pfunzo Sidogi from the Department of Fine and Studio Arts also played an instrumental role in his development as an artist during his studies. “They shaped the way that I read and write about my work.”

The judging panel for the competition comprised experts from different spheres of the art world: collector, academic, artist, and gallerist. The panel’s role is to help recognise artists who stand out above the rest, who demonstrate significant potential, interesting ideas, and skilful execution.

Sylvester is in the final stages of completing his Master’s degree at the Central University of Technology (CUT). The title of his dissertation is Innovative Sand-casting for the Ceramic Studio

In February next year, he plans to return to his alma mater to present a workshop on sand-casting to current students.

The other finalists who hail from TUT are Theophelus Rikhotso, Tumelo Mphela, and Liesl Roos, who are all making great strides in the art world.

For more information on the Tshwane University of Technology, please contact Phaphama Tshisikhawe, Corporate Affairs and Marketing.
Tel: +27 12 382 4711   Email: tshisikhawerpt@tut.ac.za