Held under the tagline 'the art of innovation' the Sasol New Signatures award is one of the longest-running and most prestigious art prizes in South Africa. A phenomenal platform for emerging artists in South Africa, every year a group of finalists are invited to show their works at the Pretoria Art Museum (in addition to winning a substantial cash prize) and the winner also gets to host their own solo exhibition.
After a 2020 hiatus, the Sasol New Signatures award is back for 2021. Entries are open until September 8, 2021 and this year's finalists and winner will be announced on Wednesday November 10. Find out how to enter here.
If you are on the hunt for exciting new names on the South African contemporary art scene to follow, these previous Sasol New Signatures award winners will definitely are worth a look.
Tshwane University of Technology graduate Patrick Rulore (born 1995) won the 2019 Sasol New Signatures award for his beautiful rendering of what has become a typical scene in South Africa, a family clustered around a table lit by gas lamps. In the work titled Stage 4 Moments, Rulore references South Africa's so-called 'loadshedding' or planned powercuts, that are an unwelcome and regular occurrence. Focusing on the connections formed while the distraction of phones, computers and TVs are temporarily eliminated, the judges described the work as "a sensitive celebration of the rare and transient moments of sincere human connection that occur during those brief hours of darkness".
Runner up 2019
In his intricate portrait Phowthah sis’ Mgabadeli, Durban-based artist Luyanda Zindela (born 1991) explores the limitless possibilities of readily available mediums such as ballpoint pens and plywood. His incredible drawings demonstrate how exceptional works of fine art can be produced using affordable materials, meticulously conjuring with a simple pen the intricacies of light and shadow and the layers of human skin.
Merit Award winner 2018
In her merit award-winning work Medication: C₂₃H₂₇N₃O₇, Kelly Crouse traces her life journey suffering from a rare skin disease called perioral dermatitis, a facial rash that tends to occur around the mouth. Using mixed media the artist pushes the boundaries of contemporary self-portrait painting in a bold and confrontational way to address both the physical and emotional challenges of living with a rare skin disorder.
For her 2017 winning work, photographer Lebohang Kganye created a diorama-style animated film filled with silhouette cut-outs of family members and other props. Inspired by family photo albums and the myths and legends that they create, the short animated film, Ke sale teng, explores the conflicting stories that combine memory and fantasy revealed when we look back over our family photos.
Sthenjwa Hopewell Luthuli
Runner up 2017
In his shortlisted work Umbango (Conflict), Sthenjwa Hopewell Luthuli (born 1991) depicts one of the defining themes of his art, that of the clashes between cultural traditions and contemporary life. This work in particular reflects the domestic contradictions inside contemporary Zulu homes where traditional roles, rituals and customs need to be adhered to in order not to create conflict between families, but are also sometimes at odds with other elements of contemporary Zulu family life. Since winning the Sasol New Signatures award in 2017, the artist has exhibited at art fairs such as Latitudes and more recently at the BKhz gallery in Rosebank.
In her 2016 New Signatures award-winning installation, Zyma Amien (born 1962) addresses labour issues within the garment and textile industry. A reaction to the mental and physical traumas endured by her mother and grandmother who both worked in the trade for pitifully low wages, in this powerful work Amien honours and pays homage to these often unseen workers. The overalls are made using gauze (alluding to the scars of both physical and historical pain) while the pins holding the seams are a metaphor for the manner in which machinists have been pinned to their seats for decades.
Merit Award winner 2015
In 2015, the year of the #RhodesMustFall protest, Cape Town artist Sethembile Msezane was awarded a New Signatures Merit Award for her work The Public Holiday Series which the artist created to "highlight the significance of black women in the South African (political) landscape by asserting my body in public spaces, as a living sculpture, through the process of temporary monumentalisation". Throughout the ensuing nationwide #FeesMustFall protests Msezane continued to create striking images and videos that speak to the exercise of memory, the position of women in the public arena and the cyclical nature of historic events.
Haroon Gunn-Salie & Alfred Kamanga
Merit Award winners 2013
The 2013 Merit Award-winning work No mans land was a site-specific intervention in the derelict JMT building in the Joburg City Centre. Described as a 'social sculpture', the work was publically installed at the building on the border of Newtown and Fordsburg in June 2013 in collaboration with 15 residents living there. Another similar piece created by the pair titled Room no 14-9.1 m2 was also installed at the Stevenson Gallery in Braamfontein as part of a group exhibition, with both installations timed to coincide with the centenary of the Native Land Act of 1913. Haroon Gunn-Salie has since gone on to garner numerous awards and now exhibits all over the world. His work continues to focus on issues of displacement and land and among his most critically acclaimed recent works is his haunting sculptural tribute to the Marikana Massacre which was featured at the Frieze Sculpture fair in London in 2018.
2011 marked 50 years since the launch of the Sasol New Signatures award and the then 25-year-old Soweto-born artist Mohau Modisakeng walked away with the top award. His winning work Qhatha referenced themes of ritual and spirituality and was described by the judges as one that "unites the artist's persona charging the work with a bold and sensual identity drawing the viewer into the space". Following his win Modisakeng has gone on to become a major name on the global contemporary art scene and in 2017 along with Candice Breitz he was invited to represent South Africa at the Venice Biennale.