THERIANTHROPES: Elizabeth Jane Balcomb with her pieces I Am You and Survival. Below, I am You.

DURBAN artist Elizabeth Jane Balcomb has made her city and the country proud by winning the 2014 Sasol New Signatures art competition. The annual competition, which was established by the Association of Arts Pretoria in the late 1960s, is the longest-running national art competition in South Africa.

Balcomb was awarded for her works from The Weighed and Measured series, I Am You and Survival, which are sculptural pieces.

As a self-taught artist, Balcomb fell in love with the idea of art in pre-primary school.

On winning the Sasol competition, she says: “It has been one of the best things that has happened in my life. I have been thrust into the art world. I was extremely pleased to make it into the (group of) 10 finalists. I had a look at the past winners’ works and found them to be very conceptual, and although my work is conceptual, it also has more traditional aspects to it, like the fact that it is bronze sculpture. Because of this, a part of me thought that there was a chance I wouldn’t even make it into the show, so I was extremely surprised when they called to say I had made it into the final 10.”

Balcomb walks away with R100 000 and a solo exhibition at the Pretoria Arts Museum next year.

“I have found that I hold more gravitas as an artist, I have sold a lot of work since winning and have had a lot of opportunity to be represented in the media… all good for my career,” she shares.

Shedding light on her two pieces of art from The Weighed and Measured series, Balcomb says: “I am exposing more of what it means to be born into our society. We are all judged by certain criteria. The first being what species you are and if you are human. The first judgement is your gender. If you are born a female, you are expected to behave in a certain way and are treated in a certain way. The same if you are a man.

“The second criteria is your race, and the third how much money you are perceived to have. I find this is a very inhuman way of treating souls. We are souls with bodies, not bodies with souls. The two figures are standing on their baggage which is being measured by callipers.

“The second aspect to these pieces is that they are therianthropes (animal-human creatures). In modern society they are often used to symbolise negative aspects of human nature, like passivity, anger, greed, hierarchical structures. However, in my work, I use them more like the Egyptians and Khoisan used them; they are gatekeepers between the realms of the living and the dead.

“With my background of studies in nature conservation, I see this on an ecological level as an ecotone. I don’t believe we have even begun to understand the abilities of animals, such as their loyalty, capacity for forgiveness, ability to spend every moment becoming who they are. These are very powerful attributes which we are seriously lacking in our society. I hope that the viewer sees my work and feels compassion, the same as they would for their own species; but the figures are not only human, there is animal there, and I hope to open a door.”

• The Sasol New Signatures art exhibition runs at the Pretoria Art Museum until Sunday. See www.sasol signatures.