The ongoing partnership between the MTN SA Foundation and the UJ Art Gallery within UJ Arts & Culture saw the introduction and launch of the MTN X UJ New Contemporary Awards earlier this year. Unique in their approach, the awards look to both the developing both the curator and the artists selected to participate.
This year Khanya Mashabela was awarded the curatorship of MTN X UJ New Contemporary Awards and since her appointment earlier this year she has been formulating her research, selection of artists and curatorial vision for the inaugural event to be held in November 2022.
The MTN X UJ New Contemporary Awards programme places an emphasis on developments in the digital arts sphere and this is where Mashabela had to focus her attention. Under the working title Object, she navigates the premise that given the speed and breadth of contemporary culture, definitive statements about what it means to be an artist in the South African context will quickly be made redundant. She looks to exploring identity as a construction which is both real and imagined, and which is communicated through objects in physical and virtual realms. Her selected artists take a variety of approaches to the project of identity construction, with the exhibition serving as a curated view of a cross-section of strategies.
“Though the internet has radically changed us, many of the concerns navigated via digital and lens-based media have existed long before then. I don’t intend the exhibition to examine the internet as something which is external to the ‘real’ world. Rather it will explore the relationship between selfhood and objecthood, in the contemporary context; a relationship which is often mediated through technology,” says Mashabela of her concept.
“What excites me the most about the relationship between the arts and technology is the accessibility it allows the general public to interact with the arts, and how our young curators, artists, academics and specialists will be the driving force behind this crucial intervention,” states Niel Nortje, Manager of MTN’s Art Collection.
The four artists selected as finalists for the MTN X UJ New Contemporaries Award Programme are Cape Town-based artists Inga Somdyala and Thandiwe Msebenzi, Callan Grecia working in George and Natalie Paneng based in Johannesburg.
“Mashabela’s final selection demonstrates her understanding of both the medium and the curatorial possibilities. We are excited about the work that these four artists will create for the exhibition in November. This award programme pushes of the boundaries of curatorial practice; it is also about being bold, innovative and courageous”, says Thabo Seshoka, curator of the UJ Art Gallery.
Mashabela’s research was mainly conducted through artist-run online spaces including Floating Reveries and Bubblegum Club, as well as physical, artist-organised exhibitions and studio visits. Although the use of digital mediums and interactive art is established, and growing, in South Africa, one of the challenges Mashabela found in making her selection was that many technologically adept artists working with digital art as their primary medium had moved into fields such as marketing and tech rather than the visual arts.
In making her final decision Mashabela was supported by the Legacy Panel which consists of four previous MTN New Contemporaries curators: Dr Kathryn Smith, Dr Portia Malatjie, Nontobeko Ntombela and Khwezi Gule with Melissa Goba, as the panel convener.
“Though Natalie Paneng and Callan Grecia use very different tools, they are both interested in mediated personal identities - the aesthetic choices we make as we represent ourselves and our environments virtually,” states Mashabela
“Thandiwe Msebenzi takes a more historical approach in the Radical Makaza, a project in tribute to her aunt’s personal history, the project was prototyped on Instagram with Msebenzi using clothes and landscapes along with digital filters to recreate and invent an identity, with an atmosphere of historicity.”
“Inga Somdyala’s approach is more abstract than the other artists, but he too is exploring material culture and the ability of objects to act as a fundamental part of selfhood, though he is more explicit about his interest in a broader national identity. Somdyala’s works have more in common with early video art, which often relied on the relatively ‘low-tech’ of lone performer engaging with the camera. Somdyala also chooses extremely tactile objects which reasserts the power of physicality,” she concludes.
Over the coming months the four artists, guided by Mashabela’s vision will create an artwork to be exhibited at the MTN x UJ New Contemporary Awards on 25 November 2022 at the UJ Art Gallery.
ABOUT UJ ARTS & CULTURE
UJ Arts & Culture, a division of the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture (FADA) produces and presents world-class student and professional arts programmes aligned to the UJ vision of an international university of choice, anchored in Africa, dynamically shaping the future. A robust range of arts platforms are offered on all four UJ campuses for students, staff, alumni and the general public to experience and engage with emerging and established Pan-African and international artists drawn from the full spectrum of the arts.
In addition to UJ Arts & Culture, FADA offers programmes in eight creative disciplines in art, design and architecture, as well as being home to the NRF SARChI Chair in South African Art and Visual Culture, and the Visual Identities in Art & Design Research Centre.
ABOUT THE MTN SA FOUNDATION
MTN SA Foundation's purpose is to bring about meaningful, measurable and sustainable change that helps disadvantaged and rural communities to become self-sufficient. With a focus on innovative technology, we aim to uplift communities towards independence in this bold new digital world.
In the years since its launch, the MTN Art Collection has evolved into an appreciating corporate asset which facilitates dialogue between both artists and art lovers from different backgrounds, cultures and genres, contributing to ensuring that South Africa's rich cultural heritage is passed from one generation to another. The Foundation will continue to support the creative industry and look for ways to integrate digital solutions into its art management. It has also committed to exploring ways in which digital solutions can be used for teaching and learning in the creative sector.
For more information, visit arts.uj.ac.za or follow UJ Arts & Culture on social media at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.