Banele Khoza. Picture: Supplied
Young visual artists from the continent got the opportunity to show off their skills in the 2017 edition of the L’Atelier visual arts competition.

As has become tradition with the 32-year-old extravaganza, the work was of a high standard with strong social commentary running through the work.

As with last year’s competition, the awards were open to emerging artists from 10 African countries namely South Africa, Botswana, Ghana, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mauritius, Seychelles and Mozambique.

The awards are in part sponsored by Absa and the SA National Association of the Visual Arts (Sanava) and call for entries from 21-35-year-old artists.

Of burning sausages & salacious puns

This year saw the installation by Kenyan artist Maral Bolouri, a previous L’Atelier Top 100 finalist, win the overall artist through her work called Mothers and Others, a multi-sensory, interactive installation that sought to highlight how women in Africa are represented through oral traditions such as proverbs.

Bolouri's victory also marked the first time a Kenyan has won the contest.

Wilhelmina Nell’s No Evidence Of A Struggle. Picture: Supplied

She said the installation was inspired by her everyday experiences living and working in Nairobi.

“I was thinking about what the things are that reinforce oppression against women. I started thinking about proverbs and mainly Kenyan proverbs.

"Then it evolved to African proverbs.

"The research suggests that the majority are misogynist, negative. The tiny portion that are positive are about motherhood.

"One of the harsher proverbs we spotted said: 'She’s as rough as an uncircumcised boy',” she said.

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Bolouri said the the installation was also built to juxtapose the two sets of proverbs.

It features elements such as a stool and rusted cow bells that function as a symbols of the commodification and objectification of women.

The cowbells have attached to them the negative proverbs.

Ghanaian artist Priscilla Kennedy’s Untitled 2016. Picture: Supplied

She added that because motherhood is considered "sacred", she placed the proverbs about it on an alter.

She said the praise of women simply as mothers was a problrem: “According to these proverbs, women are valued as human beings only when they reproduce. 

"That’s why the candles are cut off in this alter - to suggest that women’s agency is taken away from them.”

On one end of the installation is a clean board where art revellers are encouraged to write their own, positive proverbs. The point of this? To involve the audience in disrupting the negative, misogynistic culture that is highlighted by the work.

Another big winner of this year’s competition was Banele Khoza, a Pretoria-based visual artist. Khoza’s work is called Note Making, which is a series of digital drawings that were printed with an inkjet printer.

Kenyan artist Maral Bolouri was the overall winner with her Mothers and Others work. Picture: Supplied

He is the winner of the 2017 Gerard Sekoto Award.

All the drawings feature the male body in various stages of undress, showing off various features, and delving into the conversation around the male body around the roles of men, vulnerability and men, toxic masculinities and other questions relating to being a man in the broader South African context.

The trigger for Khoza’s work was a realisation of how history had exploited the female body over the years for various reasons.

“I was like ‘I can’t paint another female body’ because that means that I am also continuing with the exploitation. So I am not trying to exploit the male body (by drawing it) but to show that there’s more sides that exist. 

"They have a vulnerable side to them as well. When you look at the images, one of the males is hiding his privates, which is different to how men behave traditionally,” he said.

Other work that received recognition was by Ghanaian Priscilla Kennedy for her piece Untitled 2016.

It takes a jab at the social stereotype that women are tools of seduction.

Wilhelmina Nell was awarded the second Merit Award for her piece No Evidence of a Struggle, which is a bronze, wax paper and wood work of a lunch box with uneaten sandwich crusts representing the artist’s interpretation of sloth.

This is the mark of a person unwilling to be proactive in their own personal success.

The photographic work of Manyatsa Monyamane, Koko Meikie, attempts to capture the timeless beauty and style of the South African youth of the 1970s, and illustrate how these people define themselves today, 45 years later.

Aside from these five artists, the Top 10 finalists in this year’s L’Atelier were: Bright Ackwerh (Ghana, Selfication); Ciara Struwig (South Africa, Evidence); Dale Lawrence (South Africa, Making Work); Elias Njora (Kenya, Foot Print 4); and Oliver Mayhew (South Africa, Receipt Poem: Shop right).

One of the adjudicators and designer of the trophies handed out at the awards, Jaco van Schalkwyk, confirmed that the adjudicators were looking for work with strong social commentary themes.

“If you look at both the winning work and the Gerard Sekoto work you’ll see the strong tackling of gender issues.

Religion as well. This work is very vital in the times we’re living in now. Those issues are topical not just on the continent, but the world.

Both the works were controversial, and it’s important that art deals with these issues," he said.