The Kebbles are out and the winners are. . .
by Kresta Tyler Johnson
After months of anticipation and media hype, the annual Brett Kebble Art Awards were announced on October 16. With the fanfare of a royal celebration, the evening festivities were meant to impress. The winners were selected from the 237 finalists by five judges over three days. In the end a rare decision was made to announce two grand prize finalists who will share the R260 000 equally.
This prize was shared by Tanya Katherine Poole, a young Grahamstown artist and Phillip Rikhotso an artist from Daniel Village near Giyani. The differences between the two could not be more apparent, or more appropriate for showcasing in one moment the vast diversity that characterises South African artmaking.
Poole is a formally trained artist who has been exploring new boundaries through video animation. Her work Missing reappropriates traditional portraiture, providing the stagnant images with life through verbal communication. The winning entry is the first work she has made in such a fashion.
Rikhotso is a self-trained, rural artist who creates woodcarvings, which elaborate upon Tsonga legends. His untitled work comprises a number of figures with distorted proportions, features and gestures. In the past year his work has begun to gain international recognition.
The juxtaposition not only between the media of these two artists, but their backgrounds, tells its own poignant tale about South Africa. It demonstrates how far the country is moving in recognising both urban and long neglected rural artists. It also re-contextualises craft as it gains the status of a fine art and is not relegated to a lesser category.
Poole intends to use her winnings to create an animation studio, while Rikhotso, a father of eight, will use the money to purchase a bakkie.
A team of curators led by Clive van den Berg remedied the mistake made last year when artists were selected solely from photographic images of their work by spending months on the road selecting the finalists in person. The result is a more solid and diverse exhibition that offers a more realistic slice of art production today in South Africa.
Along with the two top winners, five major awards of R60 000 were given to Nathaniel Stern, the Keiskamma Art Project, Sue Williamson, Marco Cianfanelli and Jay Pather. Six merit prizes of R10 000 were awarded to Bronwyn Findlay, Zen Marie, Mberegeni Ndou, Nemurunzini Fhumulani Elikanah, Jeremy Wafer and Gerhard Marx and Lara Foot Newton.
The exhibition was held from October 17 to 29 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. As a result of the huge interest in the awards and the winners, arrangements have been made to take the 'best of the Kebbles' to Johannesburg. During the exhibition in Cape Town, numerous tours were organised for local schools and tertiary institutions as part of the Access and Outreach programme, 'which focuses on making the visual arts more accessible to both those practicing within the field, and the general public.'
Regardless of peoples' opinions about Brett Kebble and his motivation for instigating this annual art award, it serves a purpose and in the end rewards those who deserve it - the artists.