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Sunday, April 25, 2021


(Dr Paul Bayliss, Specialist Art Curator at Absa Group)

35th Edition of Absa L’Atelier challenges young African artists to ‘Act their Art’

Proudly African bank Absa, in partnership with the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA), officially opened applications for the 2021 Absa L’Atelier art competition and invite young artists from across the continent to enter.

Since its inception 35 years ago, the Absa L’Atelier has showcased and continues to invest in some of the finest young artists from the 12 African countries where Absa has a presence.

“With this year’s theme The Act of Art, we are calling on our continent’s fearless creators to act now and enter. This competition will once again provide an opportunity for visual artists to respond and make their voices heard. We are committed to putting the basic building blocks in place to ensure that young artists from across the African continent can reimagine their futures and bring their possibility to life,” says Dr Paul Bayliss, Specialist Art Curator at Absa Group.

Absa L’Atelier has built a lasting legacy, providing the next generation of young African artists with the support, recognition, and exposure they need to cement their burgeoning careers – and this year will be no different, despite the ongoing presence of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

With travel bans and country restrictions still in place, and vaccine programmes still being rolled out globally, the 2021 Absa L’Atelier Awards Programme has been re-envisioned. “The pandemic has allowed Absa to advance our digitally led approach, and the entire 2021 Absa L’Atelier will take place virtually, from online submissions to hosting a virtual awards ceremony. The adjudication process will also be live-streamed using an online platform, enabling us to lead the charge in being digitally progressive in the visual arts,” says Dr Bayliss.

The prizes for the 2021 Absa L’Atelier winners have also been re-envisioned. “In light of the pandemic, it was agreed with the rightsholders, SANAVA, that winners will receive laptops and data and exposure to intensive virtually-hosted mentorship and masterclasses geared towards facilitating them with skills and opportunities to develop their careers.”

“This enables the winners to take up their prize irrespective of future uncertainty brought about by the pandemic. We believe it’s no longer about giving artists an amount of money but instead affording them with the skillset to develop and thrive as artists in a forever changing world.” explains Dr Bayliss.

The innovative, digitally led approach will ensure that winning artists still have access to highly skilled mentors to support them in growing their brand, teaching them the relevant skills that would best position them as they establish themselves in the industry.

Due to various Covid-19 controls, the 2019 ambassadors, as the three overall winners are called, were not allowed to travel and take up their residencies at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, France, or at Future Africa, University of Pretoria nor at Nirox Sculpture Park in the Cradle of Humankind.

The three 2019 ambassadors: Nigeria’s Raji Bamidele, Tanzanian artist Winifrid Luena and South African artist Nkhensani Rihlampfu, will now have an opportunity to take up their prizes and will follow the same virtual mentorship and masterclass programme as the 2021 winners. Discussions are still underway around the prize of Phoka Nyokong, the 2019 Gerard Sekoto winner, who may still take up his residency in France at a later stage.

Multi-media artist Rihlampfu, whose work is aimed at exposing the manipulation of communication through gesture and assumption by using fantastical figures to immerse viewers in a reality founded in perception, looks forward to finally enjoying his rewards. “The Absa L’Atelier is one of the continent’s most prestigious art competitions and I was honoured to be selected as a winner in 2019. I look forward to using all the tools and masterclasses provided by Absa to improve as an artist. I believe this platform will give me the courage to extend my horizons beyond the borders of my native country.”

Nyokong’s Gerard Sekoto Award is handed to the most promising emerging South African artist aged 25 to 35. This Award has been supported for more than a decade by the Embassy of France, the French Institute and the Alliance Française. He was selected for his photographic exhibition, which covered themes such as gender (mis)identity, collective social anxiety and the temporality of the human material experience.

Nyokong encourages other artists to take up the baton for this year’s competition and benefit from the exposure that comes with being part of the Absa L’Atelier community. “Art plays an important role in the lives of many African homes and Absa L’Atelier allows all emerging artists to showcase what they can do – not only to the continent but to the rest of the world. I implore all artists to act now and enter so they too can experience what the next level of art looks like and, in the process, have a real opportunity to grow as an artist.”

The visual arts afford Absa the opportunity to play a shaping role in society by identifying, nurturing, and supporting up-and-coming artists. “Through Absa L’Atelier, we give artists on the continent an opportunity to showcase their work and we are proud to be associated with the competition over such a long period of time,” says Dr Bayliss.

SANAVA President, Dr Avitha Sooful, also commended the enduring partnership between the two organisations and hopes to continue to impact the African visual arts scene for years to come. “Our partnership with Absa has grown from strength to strength and it bodes well for the development of African artists whose work will influence the continent’s creative economy, now and in the future.”

“With this year being our 35th year in existence, we hope to double the amount of entries from our continent’s young and fearless creators, and we call on all artists to act on their art and become part of the L’Atelier legacy,” concludes Sooful.

For further information about Absa L’Atelier competition, visit