CityLife Arts

Why art awards matter: A Turbine Art Fair panel tells audience during online art talk

By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor

Views on awards of any kind are always divergent if not out rightly a terrain that attracts contestation, sometimes fierce. Awards in the area of art are even more controversial as there is no science that is used to measure for example, how one artist in a particular year, is more deserving of recognition above another. This controversy over who decides so and so is more deserving over so and so, however cuts across all artistic endeavours, be it writing, painting, singing, dancing or acting.

And besides, the choice of a panel for a particular award is also an area of contestation, and even worse, members of the panel themselves are unlikely to agree on a particular verdict on who to choose between two artists as the ultimate winner. However, eventually consensus tends to rule in most such cases and a winner is eventually picked at the end, and sometimes two joint winners. 

But still, it can get even more complicated an affair as sometimes a panel can decide that there is no deserving winner among the entries received for a particular category. But if you think that is complicated enough, bring in the matrix of the sponsors of the awards, for they too have expectations from the awards they sponsor, as in most cases, they expect them to fit nicely into their own agenda. After all they are financing them. Still there is more complication, as in some cases, there is even behind the scenes sinister hand, working hard, lobbying for a particular artist by those who would like to see a certain outcome that is in sync with their own expectations.

Well, last night I attended an online discussion of art awards. However just relax. The above complexities around awards were not part of that discussion, and for that, thank goodness for the progressed smoothly.

James Sey
Bekie Ntini

 The Turbine Art Fair 2021 series of online art talks simply titled TAF Talks, curated by researcher and consultant, James Sey, kicked off yesterday, Wednesday August 25, via Zoom.  The inaugural series featured award winning artist Blessing Ngobeni, Dr. Paul Bayliss, senior curator at ABSA, and Bekie Ntini from the Market Photo Workshop, and the discussion was moderated by Sey.

The topic was broadly framed, entitled Role of Art Awards. The discussion was deliberately steared towards the constructive role of art awards, and not their controversial side.

The panel was well chosen as Blessing runs and award ceremony of his own called the Blessing Ngobeni Art Prize, which has been in existence for 5 years now. ABSA runs the long running L’Atelier Award, which is open to visual artists from 12 African countries, where the banking group has a presence. The Market Photo Workshop also runs a popular award for photography which is awarded annually.

All the three panellists emphasised the importance of the awards as they have proven to be valuable to those that have won them previously, with regards to their career development  and opportunities that come their way.

“Those who are chosen for the L’Atelier Award benefit immensely with regards to their professional practice, especially because at university you are taught around graft, but as a financial institution, we teach them a number of skills that they need in their professional practice, such as media skills, and how to answer questions properlyas well as  contract law. We work on the basis of a philosophy that it takes 20 years to build a career, but it can take two minutes to destroy it, especially when it comes to reckless use of social media,”  warned Bayliss about the pitfalls of social media to an artist who has not been trained well.

Paul Bayliss

 Bayliss said that they stopped calling the contesting artists that the bank picks, winners, but rather ambassadors. That change was implemented last year as now there are four ambassadors that are chosen.

“The winners of the Blessing Ngobeni Prize we teach them how to do their budgets, pricing their art works, as well as how to do their taxes. Knowing these skills is important. For example, I got into a run in with the tax man myself because my taxes were not in order, and therefore I ended  up paying a lot of money,” Ngobeni said.

Ngobeni revealed that the winners of the Blessing Ngobeni Art Prize have in the past attracted both the media and galleries.

“Once you win an award it attracts  media attention and galleries who know that at least you have something on which they  can work on. And yes, these awards matter, for example the recent winner is currently working with a Cape Town gallery,” he revealed.

Ntini also said that a winner of the photography award gets to be trained in critical skills that they will need besides, the craft itself.

:“They work with an archive and exhibition team. We expect them to have these critical skills.  These awards are a platform and they launch careers and also you are trained in terms of administration processes. This training shifts their thinking and in terms of art practice and administration skills,” said Ntini.

Sey revealed that more talks will take place, leading to the Turbine Art Fair, which this year will be a hybrid online and physical fair which will take place in its Illovo, Johannesburg venue.

TAF 2021 takes place from 30 September to 3 October 2021, 10 Fricker Rd Illovo, Johannesburg.

Tickets: R150 to be purchased online. For more information go to:: www.turbineartfair.co.za 

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