Archive: Issue No. 70, June 2003

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Launch of New R100K Art Awards
by Paul Edmunds

The who's who of Cape Town's artworld - and several others I've never seen - assembled in the grounds of JCI's Cape Town office, in leafy Bishopscourt, on Tuesday May 27 for the launch of The Brett Kebble Art Awards.

I must admit to feeling a little out of place in my grubby denims, and was taken aback by the choice between an alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktail at lunchtime. But nothing prepared me for the true gobsmacker: the amount of money offered by this prize. The whole affair, in fact, was quite surprising.

When confirming my attendance, the person on the 'phone would tell me nothing about the award. On my way there, I realised I'd never before had occasion to visit in Bishopscourt. On arrival I was shown into my parking spot up a long driveway, received a nametag and press pack and then nearly walked straight into a tall red caryatid.

The presence of Strijdom van der Merwe inside cleared that up for me - he had been commissioned to produce the works for the launch. I was lead through two wood-panelled rooms - hung incidentally with work by Irma Stern, Gerard Sekoto and others - into the garden behind. Here a crowd was already tucking into the fancy cocktail food born on silver trays by well-heeled waitrons. On the lawn beyond, a performance of sorts, involving a man in a rowing boat and several strands of coloured cord, was taking place.

Taking the microphone, full of funny quips, JCI Director and entrepreneur Brett Kebble described how he had chosen to sponsor the awards in his private capacity. The large sum he is offering, he explained, will serve to both uplift less-established artists and entice those better established who tend to shy away from entering such competitions.

Divided into six categories - Crafts, New Media, Painting and Mixed Media, Photography, Printmaking and Sculpture - the award will see the winner get R100 000 and runners-up in the remaining five categories will receive R30 000.

Justifying his 'controversial' inclusion of craft (detailed as "Ceramics and African crafts" on the entry form), he described it as being on par with other fine art production. This is clearly, and justifiably, a strategy for empowering black and possibly rural artists and crafters. He added that the competition would be based in Cape Town, as much to spread things around a bit as to serve as a replacement for the long-departed Cape Town Triennale.

Structured completely unlike the sadly missed FNB Vita Awards, and possibly a little more conservative in scope, the competition will culminate in an annual exhibition. It is to be curated by Richard Smith, a painter well-known as a former Sunday Times and Rand Daily Mail cartoonist.

The panel of judges for the first competition comprises painter and academic Penny Siopis, painter and photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa, art consultant Julia Meintjies and collector, critic and visual art advisor to Sasol and the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees Lucia Burger.

Entry will be by photograph or digital image, and finalists' work will be assembled for judging and exhibition. The first awards will be made on September 30 and entries close on July 28. SEE EXCHANGE.