Conversations on a bus: the 2017 Sasol New Signatures Art Competition in review
Posted: 18 September 2017
2017 Sasol New Signatures Art Competition, a bus filled with art critics, journalists and bloggers rolls along the N1 en-route to the Pretoria Arts Association gallery. They’re all there as part of a media tour for the competition and its subsequent exhibition, the winners of which were announced the evening before. It’s a hot day and inside the bus, people are irritable but enthusiastic. The bus rolls on and enters Pretoria, passing the clusters of face-brick apartments, dusty pavements, gangs of pigeons and the slow ticking over of sprinklers in Arcadia Park. Nobody in the bus is talking about the competition, or about any kind of art for that matter. Instead, there are conversations about World War II, cultural heritage, current affairs, developing nations and the intellectual work of the late Solomon Mahlangu, a former operative of the ANC military wing. When the bus eventually pulls into the parking lot, many of its passengers are still in conversation. Sthenjwa Luthuli presents work that echoes and honours South Africa's great artists with such precision that it’s hard to believe he is only 26. This year’s overall winner, Lebohang Kganye, uses what we know about photography to reassess what we think we know about the past and memory. Another particularly powerful piece comes from Claire Simone Manicom and features only a dusty suitcase and what’s made to look like a mummified dog. The artwork, suitably titled 'Let them lie', shows the sleeping dog inside the suitcase not quite dead, not quite alive, and impossible to ignore. Occupying a sizeable section of the gallery is Zyma Amien’s ‘"Real" lives and "Ordinary" objects: Partisan art-making strategies with garment workers of the Western Cape'. Amien was last year’s overall winner, taking the prize for her multimedia installation, which both interrogates and illuminates the working lives of women in the garment industry. The piece offers a quietly harrowing look at the labour issues that continue to exploit workers, and upon viewing the artist’s piece in its entirety, it’s easy to see how valuable an ongoing institution like the Sasol New Signatures Competition really is when it comes to fostering and sustaining the careers of young artists. Complete with artworks that stretch conceptual boundaries while still acknowledging institutional histories, the Sasol New Signatures Art Exhibition is a showcase of contemporary pieces that demand attention from all who view them. sasolsignatures.co.za for more details.