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WIN FOR MLU (article first published : 2006-04-25)

Dynamic young Durban artist Mlungisi Zondi has won the coveted MTN New Contemporaries Award 2006. This was announced by guest speaker Professor Andries Oliphant at the opening of the MTN New Contemporaries Award and Exhibition at Johannesburg Art Gallery on April 23. Zondi takes home R50,000, a cell phone and enviable new status in the annuals of South African art.

Mlu Zondi’s unconventional live art piece, Silhouette which he and a partner perform together, was developed especially for the MTN New Contemporaries Exhibition. The work is challenging in both form and subject. Combining live performance and projection, the 15-minute piece confronts cultural issues and, as the judges point out, “reflects poignantly on societal problems, woman abuse, gender relations and woman empowerment.”

Five exciting young South African artists were nominated for the MTN New Contemporaries Award 2006: Nandipha Mntambo, Mlungisi Zondi, James Webb, Julia Rosa Clark and Sharlene Khan. Each finalist created a new artwork especially for the MTN New Contemporaries Exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Collectively, this line up of cutting-edge talent can be expected to set the artistic trends in the next few years.

The MTN New Contemporaries Award and Exhibition, which has taken place about every two years since 2001, is one of the most prestigious in South Africa. It showcases five emerging South African artists who have not yet received critical acclaim but are positioned to be the next leaders in the field.

The MTN New Contemporaries Award is distinctly different from other art awards in that it is entirely unsolicited by the artists it honours. The judging process is also unique. It is initiated with a short-listing of emerging artists by an appointed curator who is a specialist in contemporary art. The 2006 curator is Khwezi Gule, Contemporary Collections Curator from Johannesburg Art Gallery and a young professional who is making waves. For some months, he visited studios across South Africa in a quest for the best but his eye has also sought new talent that will jettison old stereotypes.

Following the curator’s search, the findings are handed over to an independent judging committee which chooses the winner from his selection of finalists. The judges for the MTN New Contemporaries Award 2006 are Zayd Minty (cultural producer and curator who has focused on identity politics), Melissa Mboweni (curator and writer), Nathi Gumede (provincial chairman for the Visual Arts Network of South Africa), Clive Kellner (Director: Johannesburg Art Gallery), and Philippa Hobbs (MTN Art Collection curator). The judges’ combined statement on the MTN New Contemporaries Award 2006 reveals the diversity of South Africa’s new talent: “The winner and finalists of the MTN New Contemporaries Award have presented works that are interesting and unique in different ways: innovation from tradition, spirituality, labour issues, popular culture, relationship with media, and questioning conventional forms of fine art.”

Previous MTN New Contemporaries Award winners include now-celebrated names such as Usha Seejarim and Thembinkosi Goniwe (joint winners in 2001) and Thando Mama (winner in 2003). Their success has since run to exhibitions in both South Africa and abroad, as well as prominence in recent publications on South African art.

Speaking on behalf of the MTN Foundation, General Manager Dr Meshack Khosa said: “MTN’s success “everywhere you go” isn’t just about providing networks that enable communication across countries and continents, therefore, but about facilitating change that brings long-term benefits.”

The MTN New Contemporaries Award showcases South African artists as a source of new ideas and media. Through this award the public has the opportunity of becoming familiar with new languages of emerging artists.

The exhibition runs at the Johannesburg Art Gallery from April 23 to June 25.




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