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Saturday, November 2, 2013


(Husain & Hasan Essop. Pic: Timmy Henny)

The National Arts Festival has named an unprecedented eight young South Africans winners of the prestigious Standard Bank Young Artist Award, bringing to 125 the total number honoured since Standard Bank began sponsoring the Awards three decades ago.

The Award is made annually to young South African artists who are either on the threshold of national acclaim, or whose artistic excellence has enabled them to make international breakthroughs. “Celebrating excellence, innovation and a refined technical skill and artistry rests at the heart of the Standard Bank Young Artist Awards. Each of this year’s winners represent the vibrancy and sophistication with which South Africa’s artistic and cultural legacy continues to be enriched” said Festival Artistic Director, Ismail Mahomed.

Twin brothers Hasan and Husain Essop (28) have been named by the National Arts Festival as the joint winners of the 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art.

Born and raised in Cape Town, the twins have been collaborating since their graduation from the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2007. They both completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Postgraduate Diploma in Art at Michaelis, and subsequently Postgraduate Certificates in Education, at the University of Cape Town.

The twins graduated with individual bodies of work, but when they were approached by the Goodman Gallery in 2007, they proposed the idea of collaborating and making art together - the first time they ever worked together.

“Growing up, Husain and I were close but also apart,” explains Hasan. “We went to school together, and lived in the same house but we had different friends, likes and interests, and developed different identities and skills which we then brought together when working together.” Husain specialised in Photography and makes all the important technical decisions when setting up a shoot. Hasan specialised in Printmaking and therefore has a lot more freedom in the post-production and printing of the work.

They both contribute to the subject matter and editing of the photographs, always discussing new ideas and locations to shoot. They speak very visually to each other and many ideas are born from their conversations; using popular culture, the media and Hollywood as inspiration. They are interested in subject s that interest the youth and forming the next generation.

“There are many things that drive, motivate and inspire me,” says Hasan. “My religion and spiritual belief - in my opinion - is the most important, as this guides my life, creative process and subject matter. I love art and everything that comes with it. At times it is extremely controversial and challenges my beliefs, but I am motivated to find a balance between religion and art. My community and culture, traditions and religion are subjects that I feel that have not been explored and this provides an opportunity to portray ideas to people that have not encountered them before.”

They both say that their series of work highlights a multi-cultural clash between religion and popular cultures. “We explore the dominating influence of Western theatrics and those narratives that are constructed to depict a certain reality. Inspired by Hollywood’s visual language and tactics, we create our own narratives. Each photograph reflects us in a battle of moral, religious and cultural conflicts. Two dominant personalities appear, East and West with all their stereotypes. Environments are chosen as stages on which to perform and define our behaviours.”

Over the past few years, the brothers have been establishing themselves in various parts of the world. During 2009 they completed a residency in Cuba (coinciding with the inclusion of their work on Integration and Resistance in the Global Age at the Havana Biennale) and facilitated a workshop on invitation from the University of Hamburg, Germany. They were selected for the Dakar Biennale in 2010, and credit the recognition they received from taking part in the Spier Contemporary exhibition (2007 and 2010) as big boosts for their career. Their work has appeared in several group shows, including the ABSA L’Atelier in Johannesburg, Power Play at Goodman Gallery Cape, Peekaboo Current South Africa at The Helsinki Museum in Finland, and Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The brothers took part in a residency at the Thami Mneyele Foundation in Amsterdam in 2011, holding their first solo exhibition in the Middle East at the Isabelle van den Eynde Gallery, in Dubai, titled Indelible Marks, in the same year.

The Essops’ work has been included in various private and public collections, including the Spier Collection, the Durban Art Gallery and the South African National Gallery. The Goodman Gallery has hosted two solo exhibitions of their work – Halaal Art (2010, Johannesburg) and Remembrance (2012, Cape Town).

“Becoming an artist has been a dream come true, but at the same time extremely difficult. To have a twin brother who shares your experiences and qualifications, and that is driven, is in my opinion the leading factor in our success.” says Hasan.

There have been many proud moments in their career, including a visit from Sir Elton John to their parents’ home in Rylands to buy some of their work; and being selected by Puma to create a design for the national soccer team jersey, which Bafana Bafana have been wearing since 2011; but the twins remain, foremost, committed to their families and community.

Both working full time as educators in boys’ schools in Cape Town, they focus a lot of energy on developing and maintaining their skills. “I believe that in order to share knowledge you need to have it, and therefore teaching has made me a better person and artist” explains Hasan. “I love being kept busy and my mind busy as it keeps me sharp and ready to embrace new challenges and obstacles.”

They look forward to their first trip to the National Arts Festival, and compiling their first print catalogue, as offshoots of winning the Standard Bank Young Artist Award. Motivated by the influence of significant teachers in their own lives, they hope to inspire others, especially the youth through education, and thus leave a positive legacy in South African Art.