Meet the artists for the MTN X UJ New Contemporary Awards

more than a year ago

“The exhibition alternates between memory and fantasy, grief and play, fragmentation and belonging. The artists are drawn together by a fascination with the ways that we control the material culture which surrounds us, as well as how we are defined by this object world.” – Khanya Mashabela, curator of the MTN X UJ New Contemporary Awards 2022.

The MTN X UJ New Contemporary Awards brings four upcoming artists together to create work under the guidance of the year’s chosen curator. This year curator Khanya Mashabela chose artists Callan Grecia, Natalie Paneng, Inga Somdyala and Thandiwe Msebenzi, with them working under the title Subject:Object

The awards took place on Fri, Nov 25, and after what was no doubt hard deliberation Inga Somdyala was chosen as this year’s winner of the MTN X UJ New Contemporary Awards. A big congratulations to Somdyala and all the other artists involved. They have created distinctive work exploring how we relate to objects in both the physical and digital realms. Make time to see their work at UJ Art Gallery until Fri, Jan 13, 2023.

The four artists featured at this year's awards. From right to left, Callan Grecia, Natalie Paneng, Inga Somdyala and Thandiwe Msebenzi. Photo provided by UJ Art Gallery.

The title of the exhibition, as well as the work created, highlights MTN and UJ’s commitment to not only fostering the arts but driving change. In particular, the focus is on how the digital realm can increase accessibility to art and how it will reshape our society. 

Each of the selected artists has delved into the ways our identities are shaped by, and shape the world around us. Their work highlights the complexities of our contemporary world as the physical and digital increasingly bleed into each other.

Speaking about the exhibition, Mashabela says, “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.”

A still from one of Inga Somdyala's films focusing on 'The Messenger/Schoolboy'.

Inga Somdyala is based in Cape Town and works in various mediums, including print, installation and performance. His work explores “how the personal actively interacts with the collective, and history with the present.” And for this exhibition, he filmed two performances by his characters 'The Messenger/Schoolboy’ and ‘The National Mourner' between parliament and the Central Firestation in Cape Town.

Chapter 4 of Thandiwe Msebenzi’s Radical Makazi series is a way for the artist to reconcile with familial loss and grief. The series started on Instagram with Msebenzi creating the character Radical Makazi which her aunt and her own experiences inspire. The series is ongoing and each chapter deals with different themes, emotions and issues. Msesbenzi says, “Radical Makazi’s most significant trait is that she is always resisting, in nuanced ways and choosing joy and love to navigate through her life.”

Ndiyala, 2022, Thandiwe Msebenzi, Print on watercolour paper.

Of the four artists, Callan Grecia is the only one who does not use video. Yet his paintings are no less alive. Bold, bright and busy they take inspiration from comic books and TV to Cubism. And with their mashing together of portraits, modern-day iconographies and colour, they are an apt reflection of our age. At first glance, they may look like an amalgamation of things found on our screens, but as you study them together, they build a narrative of Grecia growing up in a post-apartheid and post-modern South Africa. A place that is beautiful and chaotic and, despite its flaws, seductive. 

Part of Pixel Matrix, 2022, Callan Grecia, installation of paintings and drawings.

Natalie Paneng invites you into her head by creating virtual worlds which investigate the different selves we develop as we get older. Her work is akin to a sci-fi film as her body and head duplicate and morph into the digital world around her. Paneg says the aim was “[to take] a look at what is inside me after this change, looking at what I yearn to know about myself, through looking at my head, presenting my head and of course using my head.”

The works on show for the MTN X UJ New Contemporary Awards suggest the possibilities and futures of not only art but our world with the clashing of virtual and physical worlds. They probe how we negotiate the lingering effects of history, a bombardment of media, the acceleration of consumerism, and shifting social interactions when forming our identities. Whether or not this is good or bad is up to you to decide but what the artists make clear with their work is an expansion of the options available to us. This expansion requires us to be more aware of how we interact with, and are moulded by, the world around us. 

To read our interview with Khanya Mashabela click here.


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