By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor
This is one award ceremony which since its inception has made a significant and visible difference in the lives of the winners. This means therefore that this year’s winner of the Cassirer Welz Award Bulumko Mbete just like the previous winners, stands a good chance of making an indelible mark on the African visual art landscape.
Declared the 2023 Cassirer Welz award winner at an event held at Straus &Co.’s offices in Houghton on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, a high powered panel of judges was unanimous in picking her as the one who deserves this prestigious contemporary art accolade on the African continent.
The award was initially aimed at emerging artists from mainly South Africa, but in recent years, has expanded in scope to include candidates from the rest of the African continent.
For example, since its inception the award has grown in scope, with the 2023 call for entries including proposals by artists based in the following countries, some of which also form part of the Triangle Network: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The triumphant artist Mbete, born in 1995, is a Joburg based artist and writer with multicultural heritage. Mbete completed her BFA at the Michaelis School of Fine Art. She undertakes research in different forms of craft/design making. These methodologies are predominantly performed by women in Southern Africa. Bulumko is interested in materiality; through using textile, beading, natural dyeing and weaving; she creates a framework to communicate generational traditions and gestures of love. Mbete’s interests expand into ways of engaging with the archive and using the archive for creative storytelling. In this pursuit, she uses archival matter such as photographs, textiles, and clothes. She explores the geographic connections and synchronicities within her family in relation to South African history, and its effect on migration, labour, farming and love.
The selection jury, comprised of Bag Factory director Maria Fidel Regueros, Zinhle Zwane and young curator and researcher Boitumelo Makousu, Strauss& Co, Executive Director Susie Goodman, and Senior Art Specialist Wilhelm van Rensburg, who unanimously agreed that Mbete, is an exceptional multifaceted artist, whose interest in materiality; through the use of textile, beading, natural dyeing and weaving to communicate generational traditions and gestures of love, will benefit from the opportunity for substantial creative and professional growth.
Through the long-standing support of Strauss & Co and funding from Business and Arts South Africa (BASA), as the winner of the 2023 Cassirer Welz Award, Bulumko Mbete receives an intensive 3-month studio-based residency at the Bag Factory from 11 April – 10 June 2023 and funds towards a stipend, materials and production costs. The residency will culminate in a solo exhibition of newly created work at the Bag Factory with a public opening in July 2023.
Those who have made it to the finals this year are a talented lot with big ideas and dreams about their art practice and they come from several countries around Southern African as well as importrant cultural cities and provinces.
This year’s award finalists included:
Ciara Dunsby (b.2000, Cape Town, South Africa) is a sculptor and installation artist currently living in Cape Town. She graduated with a BA(FA) from the Michaelis School of Fine Art (University of Cape Town), with distinctions in both her theoretical and practical studies.
Catriona Towriss (b.1987, Cambridge, UK, residing in Cape Town) is a self-taught artist. In 2015, she relocated to Cape Town, South Africa for a research fellowship. In 2020, after eleven years in public health research, Catriona Towriss transitioned into full-time artistic practice. She has chosen to remain in South Africa where she is most inspired. Her creative practice is informed by her engagement with human and environmental challenges that was cultivated in her academic training.
Catriona Towriss has worked in different mediums; including found objects from the living environment, printmaking, drawing and painting. Currently creating in sculpture; her most recent work uses tree bark and seeds to uncover nature’s timeless visual language. In the context of the climate emergency, she seeks to explore the nature and interactions of power between human and non-human in the present moment.
ivukuvuku, born Chumani Bavulele Mantanga, is from eMgwenyane village at Tsomo in the Eastern Cape. She is a multi-dimensional artist who works across disciplines of painting, glass, ceramics, writing photography and performance. In her work, she explores themes of memory, healing, history and ancestry. ivukuvuku completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine and Applied Arts at the Tshwane University of Technology (2019), majoring in glass and painting. The name ivukuvuku is based on the realisation of how a piece of cloth, sometimes unpleasant represent the rebirth of a transformed self, and celebrating a healed versions of selves.
In her artworks, materiality plays a vital role as she is able to connect with her mediums – those found in places like rivers, swamps and gravel paths in her village – in a way that revives the character of what was once discarded, then later brought into life – a rebirth of ivukuvuku. By mostly using a sackcloth to unite all the details entailed in her artworks, ivukuvuku is a healer and a healing spirit to (her)sel(ves). She describes the sackcloth as a skin; the celebration of (her)sel(ves) that suspends the societal beliefs of how ivukuvuku should identify. The sackcloth is also a symbolic healing of memory that represents the active processes of reconnecting and recreating relationships within the sacred space where the presence of her nature and her ancestors reside. As a result, the sackcloth undergoes through the elements of water, fire, wind and sun before it is then incorporated with beadwork, fire,
Kuln’Zu, aka Fred Zucule, is a photographer, poet and cultural worker from Maputo, Mozambique, currently based in Nairobi, Kenya. Their work explores themes of migration, queerness and care, with the body as tool, metaphor and subject. Raised across multiple geographies from Maputo, to Nairobi, Johannesburg, to Los Angeles and New York; their photography blends these experiences through a mystical, surreal and queer lens. Kuln’Zu is also a film programmer having worked with New York African Film Festival, Atlanta African Film Festival and more. They graduated from Pomona College in 2021 with a BA in Africana Studies, with concentrations in Media and Molecular Biology.
ToscaNeena is a photography couple originating from Cape Town, South Africa formed by Tosca Marthinus and Neena Borrill. They unify their ideas when creating a shoot, as the roles of photographer and assistant alternate between them. Their focus medium is photography; however, they explore other mediums as well such as mixed media, video and sound installation.
Their subject matter is comprised of objects or people in a simplified frame, all shot in black and white. It eliminates unimportant details and allows fewer complex elements to overcrowd the core message in the photograph. Creative displays of props give the viewer some visual symbolism to comprehend the narrative of a photograph. They use manual in-shot techniques to manipulate or distort the final idea.
They use their creative liberty to bend the rules of commercial photography and aesthetic conventions to portray themes of psychology and social conditioning. When creating a scene, they attempt to make it feel surreal yet familiar. Matching visuals to human emotions or states of psyche is achieved through camera techniques which blur the subject. Additionally, black and white photography is a timeless medium and provokes a nostalgic essence. No matter how hard you try, you cannot replicate what the eye is seeing in any digital or print format. Visual media is not competent with the resolution of the human eye or accurate in our perception of colour, but a photograph can still make you feel as though something is emotionally triggering a memory.
Lusanda Ndita is a visual artist based in Johannesburg. His work considers the domestic archive in the form of photo albums, oral histories and identities. He was part of a group exhibition at Bubblegum Club as a finalist for the Elle Style Report 2016. In 2017 Ndita completed the Advanced Programme in Photography course at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg. Ndita’s work was exhibited at the Cartier booth at the 2017 Joburg Art Fair. In 2018 He exhibited at Turbine Art Fair TAF18 as part of the Talent Unlocked Artist Career Development Programme. In 2020 he was awarded the Tierney Fellowship which culminated in a solo exhibition at the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg. He was part of a group show at Pretoria Art Museum at Sasol New Signatures 2022. Most recently, he participated in the JP Morgan Abadli Art Project.
About the Award
The award was founded in 2011 by the late Nobel Laureate, Nadine Gordimer in celebration of her husband Reinhold Cassirer’s love of the arts. It has grown into a prestigious visual art award known for locating and acknowledging excellence in emerging local artists. After the passing of Stephan Welz, the following year, the Reinhold Cassirer Award was renamed the Cassirer Welz Award as a fitting tribute to the two men who contributed so much to the South African art world.
Through this long-term partnership with Strauss Education, the Cassirer Welz Award has helped the winners launch their careers and make a name for themselves within the South Africa art market. As the award passes its eleventh -year milestone, Strauss Education have not wavered in their commitment to supporting the award even during times of unprecedented uncertainty. Strauss & Co. recognises the importance of continuing the legacy of this prestigious development award for emerging artists.
Now in its twelfth year, the award has given emerging artists an opportunity to showcase their talents to a broader audience. “Since its inception this award has seen the winners launch their careers and really start making a name for themselves within the South Africa art market,” says Susie.
Previous winners include artists such as Blessing Ngobeni, Nompumelelo Ngoma, Tshepo Mosopa, Asanda Kupa, Thato Nhlapho, Richard “Specs” Ndimande, Keneilwe Mokoena and Levy Pooe.