The MTN X UJ New Contemporary Award is particularly exciting in that the focus is not just on the artists but the curator too. It means the awards and subsequent exhibition are tied together by the vision of an emerging curator so viewers get a more cohesive experience, and it fosters the development of curatorship in South Africa.
Niel Nortje, Manager of Art Collect at MTN Foundation, says on the partnership with UJ, "I still believe that the NCA programme is unique in that it first seeks to develop opportunities for young curators and providing them with a platform where the skills and expertise of their discipline may further develop and feature. The proposed artists are motivated and supported through the curator’s research which leads to a dynamic, symbiotic partnership between these specialists and professionals. Having been able to re-launch the MTN x UJ New Contemporary Awards with UJ Arts and Culture and the UJ Gallery, a long trusted partner of the MTN Foundation, now enables the NCA programme to avail those same opportunities to curators and artists from a time that has drastically changed since 2012."
The inaugural event on Fri, Nov 25 includes the work of four artists whom curator Khanya Mashabela has selected. This has been a continuous process of research for Mashabela with her scouring the internet, galleries and studios across South Africa to find artists whose work resonates with her and whose voice she feels deserves a platform to be heard.
The four artists chosen are Inga Somdyala, Thandiwe Msebenzi, Callan Grecia and Natalie Paneng. Mashabela has chosen the title Object for the artists to work under, focusing on how identity is constructed and mediated through objects in the physical and virtual worlds. Each artist takes a varied approach, from the more abstract in the case of Somdyala, a historical approach by Msebenzi and a more personal exploration by Paneng and Grecia.
Under Mashabela's guidance, the artists provide fresh and different perspectives on the question of how we construct our identity. It comes at a time when it is increasingly hard to separate the real world from the virtual world with the implications of this still largely unclear. Through their practices, they do not say whether this is a good or bad thing but rather explore the possibilities it opens. It allows viewers to reflect on the ways their own identity is constructed and asks us to be cognisant of the objects around us.
Mashabela has consciously tried to find artists working in digital mediums and the work on show highlights the ways those working in digital mediums are pushing conseptual boundaries. The continued input of the legacy panel of curators means that the awards create space for the curator to develop their practice and be more experimental than in a conventional exhibition.
Speaking on the awards UJ Art Gallery curator Thabo Seshoka says, "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 the boundaries of curatorial practice; it is also about being bold, innovative and courageous."
You can see the different ways the artists have tackled the title Object for the MTN X UJ New Contemporary Awards from Mon, Nov 28 to Sun, Jan 15, 2023.