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SPIER CONTEMPORARY 2007 AWARDS (article first published : 2007-12-17; last edited : [an error occurred while processing this directive])

The essence of being South African, with all its issues, angst, triumphs and glorious celebrations has been distilled into a unique exhibition which opened at Spier in Stellenbosch on December 12.

“Maybe the greatest yearning of South Africans is to find a canvas on which to express themselves,” commented Premier of the Western Cape, Ebrahim Rasool, opening the Spier Contemporary 2007 exhibition. “It is through exhibitions like this that we become a country that is grappling with its soul, rather than a country of one dimensional theme parks.”

The 120 artworks chosen from the over 2,137 works submitted, are certainly providing insights into who and what South Africans are in ways that are sometimes soothing, sometimes shocking and always insightful. The artworks cover an astonishing range of media, from the static solidity of sculpture to the fluid motions of performance, from the most fragile of installations to videos that demand to be heard. The diversity of the works is perhaps a reflection of the open nature of the competition. There was no theme prescribed, allowing the artists complete freedom of expression. The only requirement was that the artists should be permanently residing in South Africa.

“Art plays a significant role in the transformation of our country” commented Yvonne Johnston, CEO of the International Marketing Council. “Exhibitions like this break down barriers and create linkages between us in the unique mix that is South Africa”.

Choosing the 92 finalists was no easy task for the selection panel which included three arts personalities formerly based in Durban: Virginia MacKenny, award-winning artist and senior lecturer at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town, as well as Spier Contemporary team members Clive van den Berg (curator of the exhibition) and Jay Pather (co-curator). The other two team members, Churchill Madikida (Outreach Officer) and Kadiatou Diallo (Project Manager), were also on the selection team as was Thembinkosi Goniwe, art lecturer at the Division of Visual Arts at the Wits School of Arts. The panel travelled to centres around the country, including Johannesburg, East London, Port Elizabeth, Umtata, Durban, Bloemfontein, Kimberley, Giyani, Potchefstroom and Barberton for the unenviable task of selecting the works.

Six award winners were selected by a diverse team of judges which included: N’gone Fall, a Senegalese art curator, art publisher and consultant in cultural policies; Predrag Pajdic, a Yugoslavian London-based interdisciplinary artist, art historian and curator, and Clive Kellner, a South African artist, curator, critic and Director of the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

Interestingly, and in spite of the high quality of work submitted, no paintings, drawings or sculpture were selected by the judges for awards, or the three works which received honourable mention. Of the six awards, one was a photograph, two were video pieces and three were performance pieces.

“It doesn't matter what the medium is,” says Spier Contemporary 2007 curator Clive van den Berg, who was very happy with the judges' selection. “The judges selected a fresh, young and exciting collection. Any group of judges is going to have its own dynamic, and I am pleased that they found the performance and video work interesting, especially as both mediums have been neglected in this country in the past”.

The other three winners were Nina Barnett and Robyn Nesbitt for their video Warcry, a challenging and thrilling look at the war cries of two Johannesburg schools; Andrew Putter for Secretly I will love you more, a haunting video installation based on three paintings in the Castle of Good Hope in which the portrait of Maria van Riebeek sings a Khoi Khoi lovesong-lullaby, celebrating her love for Krotoa, her adopted Khoi Khoi daughter; and Peter van Heerden for his performance Die Uitlander, the African and the Vrouw, which looks at the patriotism, dedication and resolve of African women.

There were six winners. These include Abrie Fourie for his photographic works: Beverley Hills, Sunnyside, Pretoria 2007 and Changing Room, Hillcrest Swimming Pool, Pretoria 2007; Chuma Sopotela, Mwenya Kabwe and Kemang Wa Lehulere for their performance U nyamo alunampumlo (The foot has no nose), a work that explores African urban centres, through a hybrid of theatrical forms including live-feed video projection, living installations and live performance work, and Bettina Malcomess, Rene Holleman and Linda Stupart for their performance Doing it for Daddy, a walking tour of the Spier Estate which re-images real and fictional histories.

Receiving special mention were Tegan Bristow for her video Chalk Vision; Bongani Joseph Khoza for his video On Trains with Bongani, and Kai Losgott and Anthea Moys for their video Unsaid.

There is one more award still to be made. This is the People’s Choice Award. Anyone visiting the exhibition can vote for their favourite artwork. The final winner will be announced on February 20, 2008, when the exhibition closes on the Spier Estate. The seven award winners will share the prize money of R700,000. All the prizes will be some type of self study, residency programme or another form which promotes or progresses the artist’s career.

The Spier Contemporary is a project of the Africa Centre, a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting and celebrating the rich history and contemporary practice of African arts and culture.

The exhibition will run at the Spier Estate until February 20, 2008, when it will move to the Johannesburg Art Gallery until May 2008. It will move to the Durban Art Gallery to run from August 15 to November 1. (see separate review)




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