Sasol New Signatures Art Competition through the decades

17 Apr 2024
Entries for the 2024 Sasol New Signatures Art Competition are now open. Artists can submit their work at one of the collection points around South Africa on Tue, Jun 4 and Wed, Jun 5. The winning artist will recieve R100,000 and the opportunity to present a solo exhibition at the historic Pretoria Art Museum. Find out more here

For more than 30 years, the Sasol New Signatures Art Competition has provided a career-building platform for emerging artists, providing a space to launch their art to a local and global audience. 

A number of entrants to the competition have built artistic careers from doing so. From exhibiting at the Venice Biennale in Italy and becoming a household name to moulding careers as artistic directors, curators, academics, arts administrators, gallerists or writers, Sasol New Signatures has become an aid in improving creative career prospects.

Its inclusivity is a drawcard. Emerging artists from anywhere in South Africa have the opportunity to showcase their talent thanks to the many collection points within each province. Not to mention that any artist who has not yet held a solo exhibition is allowed to enter. Whether you’re a student, mother, grandfather, or mid-career human looking to exit your accountant job and walk into the world of art (we’re looking at you Bev Butkow), any and all ages are welcome to enter. Success amounts to talent, regardless of your status, class, age, gender or anything in-between.
A powerful installation that draws attention to the women who have died at their partners’ hands by Andrea Walters titled​ #OverMyDeadBody, Sasol New Signatures 2022 Merit Award Winner. Photo: Sasol New Signatures.

It goes without saying that Sasol has opened the door to a wide range of media too. What started as mostly traditional formats and mediums like sculpture, paper, canvas, oils, acrylics and charcoal, has evolved to tapestry, textiles, carved soap, suspended metal shavings and so much more. Take 2022 Merit Award winner, Andrea Walters, for example. The artist's #OverMyDeadBody installation was created with Sunlight soap and Perspex to interrogate “the ongoing perception that it is acceptable for a man to punish a woman through violence or death”. A poignant piece, and one similar to 2023 runner-up Themba Mkhangeli, whose work Amawele speaks to gender-based violence through the permanent nature of pen drawing, signifying the unerasable marks on women that hurt and scar them. Yet the mark-making in Mkhangeli’s pen drawing does the opposite; it celebrates and honours the beauty of women.
An ink drawing of twin sisters by Themba Mkhangeli titled Amawele, Sasol New Signatures 2023 Runner-up Award winner.

“This artwork has a humble approach, but it is executed with such an eloquent, refined skill, that it leaves one in awe. It is a beautiful ode to women, particularly to his single-parent mother.” – Angus Taylor – sculptor on Mkhangeli's work.

Even without winning, having a name in the Sasol New Signatures finalists’ exhibitions has become an aid to emerging artists to launch sustainable careers. Many have moved on to build illustrious careers in the visual arts sector and have made significant contributions to South Africa’s artistic heritage. 2022 winner Mondli Mbhele hosted his first solo exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum alongside the 2023 finalist’s exhibition. His use of fabric collages in his vibrant works are an incredible interpretation of daily existence.

Breathing new creative life into the South African landscape, Sasol New Signatures celebrated the 2023 winners and finalists with a showcase at the Pretoria Art Museum.

Nosiviwe Matikinca (22), a third-year student from Gqeberha won the 2023 Sasol New Signatures Art Competition. An interesting topic set in a delicate medium, we can't wait to see her work in a solo exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum in 2024.
In hopes that people get inspired to create their own stories, Nosiviwe Matikinca casts school shoes in ceramic titled Ndiziphiwe (They were given to me), Sasol New Signatures 2023 winner.

“Tactile, evocative and beautiful.” – Dr Alastair Meredith, senior art specialist, Strauss & Co on the winning work.

Matikinca won the coveted title for her work Ndiziphiwe (They were given to me), a ceramic installation about underprivileged learners who wear school shoes that are handed down to them by their older siblings or family members. By immortalising these shoes through the ceramic slip-casting method, they have been given a new purpose. This process also enables the artist to capture the essence of the used shoes, including every mark, scratch and hole. As ceramic sculptures, the shoes have been symbolically restored, but are also very fragile and breakable. This fragility is a metaphor for the precarity of South Africa's public schooling system, where many black South African learners are subjected to sub-standard education.

"Every person has a story that needs to be told." – Pfunzo Sidogi, Sasol New Signatures Chairperson

A comment on the inefficiency of humans compared to nature by Matthew David Blackburn, Suffocation, Sasol New Signatures 2023 Merit Award winner.

Themba Mkhangeli (28) from Cape Town was crowned Runner-up for his work entitled Amawele. The portrait of twin sisters, who reside in the artist’s neighbourhood, pays homage to their beauty and innocence, embodied through the unerasable process of ink-pen drawing. Although gender-based violence leaves unerasable marks on women that hurt and scar them, the unerasable mark-making used in this drawing does the opposite, because it celebrates and honours the beauty of women. The diamond shape between them is the symbol of beauty which he always finds in women, it also creates a balance between the two figures.

"The competition is very important to me because life is about achieving something." – Themba Mkhangeli

The five 2023 Merit award winners (in alphabetical order):

Matthew David Blackburn (29) from Johannesburg for Suffocation (acrylic on hardboard), who, after receiving news of being one of the top seven, said: "I was overjoyed, I couldn’t feel my cheeks from smiling so hard. When the phone call was over, I found myself literally dancing on the spot!" 

Michelle Czarnecki (39) from Cape Town for There is still time I (ribbon thread on linen), who talks about her artistic journey: "Only after I had the unfulfilling career and life, I finally allowed myself to explore other options, dappling in floral and installation design and most recently textile art. At age 39, I can confidently say that art is my language."

Ofentse Letebele (34) from Cape Town for Bina & Neo (mixed media and acrylic paint on MDF), aka 'King Debs', Letebele comments on the importance of Sasol New Signatures: "This competition is crucial because it gives one an opportunity to be inducted into the arts industry in a very significant way."

Thabo Treasure Mofokeng (37) from Johannesburg for Restoration (acrylic paint and glass) notes about the realities of emerging artists: "My art journey has been the most difficult journey to walk but also worth it."

Taryn Emily Noppé (21) from Gqeberha for Vertigo (ink and graphite on Fabriano), thanked Sasol New Signatures for the motivation: "Preparing for the submission of Vertigo was a big learning curve that pushed me out of my comfort zone."

On the power of being present in the mundane, Michelle Czarnecki's There is still time I, Sasol New Signatures 2023 Merit Award winner.

Ingoma Yothando (Song of Love) was the solo exhibition by Mondli Mbhele, winner of 2022's Sasol New Signatures, unveiled at the Pretoria Art Museum in Sep, 2023. Mbhele’s medium of choice is fabric collage, as for him it shares similarities with our daily lives. Fabric covers our bodies while boosting our confidence and providing a new canvas for each day. Mbhele collects offcuts of fabric from fashion artists in Durban and Johannesburg for use in his collages. He realised that these offcuts have different qualities and value, but when discarded they become a metaphor for a state of vulnerability. By collecting and using these offcuts, he creates a new dialogue between that which is discarded and its worth.

With competition alumni including Patrick Rulore, Lebohang Kganye, Simon Moshapo, Sthenjwa Hopewell Luthuli, and many more, entrants are in good company. Find out more about Sasol New Signatures 2024 and how you can submit your work here


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