2012 Absa L’Atelier Art Awards showcase South Africa’s top young artists Hundreds of local artists heeded the call for entries for the 2012 Absa L’Atelier Art Competition, Africa’s pre-eminent annual art competition – the awards ceremony of which was held at the Absa Gallery today.

The two stand-out pieces – Selective unveiling by Elrie Joubert and Mama Uyimbohodo II from Bambo Sibiya – took top honours as this year’s overall winning work and recipient of the Gerard Sekoto Award for the most promising artist with an annual income less than R60 000, respectively.

Now in its 27th year, the Absa L’Atelier Art Competition, in partnership with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA), is rated as the longest-running and most influential art contest on the continent. It pays homage to both established and emerging young local artists and their compelling artistic vision.


Dr Paul Bayliss, Absa Art and Museum Curator, says South Africa’s young artists once again rose to the challenge this year and produced exceptionally high calibre work of outstanding quality, making the judging process an extremely challenging task for the adjudicators.

“The works produced showcased the individual creative journeys, inspirations and influences of our artists. A large proportion of the entries were personal reflections by the artists of how they viewed the world around them or those people that had positively impacted their world,” he explains.

This was particularly evident in Joubert’s winning Selective unveiling in mixed media, which allows the viewer to partake in the aestheticised scientific examination of the artist’s private collection of miniature natural objects. The collected objects with their information and drawings on glass microscope plates are displayed on a light-table.

The rest of the installation consists of a digital microscope connected to a projector. Similar to the act of making her private collection public, the viewer is also robbed of their privacy in collecting images with the microscope, by the real-time projection of the selective images. At the same time, the piece is also a contemporary interpretation of the renaissance practice of keeping a cabinet of rarities.

Sibiya’s Mama Uyimbohodo II comprising linocut, drypoint and embossing celebrates the power of women, how they challenge life and how they support their children as single parents. In demonstrating this theme, the artist used portraits of women who have impacted and positively influenced his life over the years.

As part of her prize, Joubert won R110 000 in cash and a six-month sabbatical at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, France courtesy of Absa. Sibiya – who was a top 10 L’Atelier finalist last year – won a three-month sabbatical at the Cité, French language classes and nationwide touring exhibitions all valued at R80 000, sponsored by the French Embassy, French Institute and the Alliance Française. Both prizes included return airfare and free access to galleries and museums in Paris.

A total of five Merit Awards were awarded, with each artist receiving R25 000. In addition to Joubert and Sibiya, these winners included Mandy Johnston (Coir), Nina Liebenberg (Forest) and Heidi Janice Mielke (Have you any wool?).

Aside from these five artists, this year’s top 10 finalists included Bamanye Nqxale (From the burning man series, Saphela), Karin Smith (Tread carefully), Andrew Sprawson (Car guard), Mbavhalelo Nekhavhambe (Conversations with a dead tree) and Mahlomola Nkosi (My 1st bridge to Johannesburg. My last bridge home). Each of the top 10 finalists received a cash prize of R2 500.

The competition is open to young artists between the ages of 21 and 35, and attracts entries from across the country, which is open to public viewing during the regional adjudication rounds.

An exhibition of the top 100 works will be on public display from 19 July to 23 August 2012 at the Absa Gallery, Upper Ground Level, Absa Towers North, 161 Main Street. Members of the public are requested to bring their ID books along for parking and entry purposes.