Paris awaits Absa L’Atelier winners

1 October 2019

Two Alumni of the Tshwane University of Technology’s Department of Fine And Applied Arts excelled at this year’s Absa L’Atelier Art competition. Nkhensani Rihlampfu emerged as one of three top winners (this year they’re called ambassadors), while Phoka Nyokong bagged the esteemed Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award that is bestowed on the most promising up-and-coming South African artist (aged 25 to 35) to enter the competition. 

Nkhensani Rihlampfu, a former Fine and Applied Arts student, was named one of the three top winners at this year’s Absa L’Atelier Art competition. Here he poses with his winning work. 

Rihlampfu’s winning work introduces the viewer to his universe of woven realities; a space in which actuality is entwined with the idealistic and notional ideas birthed by society. He says he aims to expose the manipulation of communication through gesture and assumption. By interacting with his fantastical figures we are immersed in a reality founded on our perception of the world. 

Asked what this recognition means to him, he said: "When one works as hard as I have to maintain the integrity of my work and ensuring that my art is deeply rooted in a conceptual foundation, I am greatly comforted to see the industry rewarding ingenuity and persistence. This type of validation encourages the industry to invest in my work and the future of my career. The international exposure is the start of placing my footprint in a broader art market," he added. 

Rihlampfu has won a one-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris and a two-month residency in South Africa; among others. While taking up the two-month residency in South Africa, he will also enjoy a weekly art masterclass.

Nyokong was selected as the Gerard Sekoto Award winner because his photography brought through the themes of gender (mis)identity, collective social anxiety and the temporality of the human material experience. 

An overjoyed Nyokong said that the accolade is a great honour. “It is a life-changing experience. It gives me an opportunity to pursue what I love with confidence and offers me great tools to grow my work and brand as an artist. I have to thank my family for all their support, all involved in my learning, and, particularly, in the creation of the work. I hope to use the platform of the Gerard Sekoto Award to raise more awareness and knowledge about this important pioneer and leader of art on the African continent, especially in Black societies. This includes educating young, fellow artists that anything is possible when you are dedicated and disciplined.”  

Asked to describe his winning work, Nyokong said: “The work uses the medium of studio photography to create a performative narrative. It does this by imagining the human as a being whose social identity cannot be pinned down to mere rigid gender associations – a being whose socialised nature means that they may only negotiate even their most intimate emotions, particularly their fears, in the sociable structures within which they are born and bred.”

As winner of the Gerard Sekoto Award, Nyokong will enjoy a three-month residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts.

The Absa L'Atelier Art competition is one of Africa’s most prestigious art competitions, and 2019 sees the 34th iteration of the competition. The competition rewards young visual artists, aged 21 to 40, with the opportunity to develop their talents abroad. This is clearly evidenced by the previous winners and the benefits and experience they attained by participating. 

Artists who are citizens and permanent residents of Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, the Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia and who reside in the above countries, are eligible to participate in the competition, which is hosted annually in partnership with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA). 

In congratulating her former students, Prof Runette Kruger, Head of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, said: “I had the opportunity to attend the award ceremony and I was extremely proud of our graduates, having seen them become the artists they are from being first-year students not too long ago. For me, the best part is the way in which our graduates are making their mark in the industry, setting an example for their peers who are still studying. Believing in yourself is the essence of being empowered,” she added.

An exhibition of the winning work will be hosted at the Absa Art Gallery (Absa Towers North), 161 Main Street, Johannesburg until 25 October. 

Phoka Nyokong, an alumnus of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, bagged the esteemed Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award at this year’s Absa L’Atelier Art competition. 

The work that secured Pkoka Nyokong the Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award.

For more information on the Tshwane University of Technology, please contact Willa de Ruyter, Corporate Affairs and Marketing.
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