Nontsikelelo Veleko scoops 2007 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art
by Michael Smith
Thirty-year-old Nontsikeleo 'Lolo' Veleko has won the 2007 Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art. Veleko is only the second photographer to have received this award.
Veleko was born in 1977 in Bodibe in the North West Province, but grew up in Cape Town where she matriculated at the Luhlaza High School in Khayelitsha. Her father was a musician but most of her artistic influence came from her art teacher Mr Ackerman in her formative years, and John Fleetwood from the Market Photo Workshop in her later developmental stages.
Veleko studied Graphic Design at the Cape Technikon (1995) and then Photography at the Market Theatre Photo Workshop (1999 - 2004). She was nominated for the MTN New Contemporaries in 2003 and was awarded a two-month residency with the International Photographic Research Network (IPRN) in the UK where her project looked at work, identity and clothes.
Veleko's work frequently deals with the connections between fashion and identity. She claims to love her urban environment and the people in it, and her series 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder' documented some of the edgier urban fashions in downtown Johannesburg's cultural mixed bag. Said Veleko about this series, 'I look at fashion and how it creates identity, because fashion plays with identity... That's how I look at fashion in South Africa, it's fun and it's like play - my clothes aren't really me, I just have a style and I have fun'.
Elsewhere, Veleko has tackled issues of black perceptions of identity and authenticity, especially in a series called www.notblackenough.lolo, which explored perceptions in South Africa of mixed heritage, using clothes as critical props to deliberately challenge assumptions of identity based on appearances and historical background.
2006 saw Veleko emerging onto the broader international circuit, showing work on 'Personae and Scenarios - the new African photography' at Brancolini Grimaldi Arte Contemporanea in Rome, Italy; 'Olvida Quien Soy - Erase Me from Who I Am' at the Centro Atlantico de Arte Mordeno in Las Palmas, Canary Islands; 'Snap Judgments: New Positions in Contemporary African Photography', at the ICP in New York; 'Bieler Fototage: Physiognomie', at Museum Schwabe, in Biel, Switzerland and on 'International contemporary photography: the living is easy' at the Flowers East Gallery in London.
Back in SA she showed on 'Second to None', curated by Gabi Ngcobo and Virginia MacKenny at Iziko SANG in Cape Town, and 'Freestyle: Sanlam Fashion Week 2006' at Afronova in Newtown, Johannesburg. Her work was also featured in the 2006 book Women by Women, 50 years of Women's photography in South Africa, edited by Robin Comley, George Hallett and Neo Ntsoma.
2007 has been a busy year for Veleko - her work was included on 'Reality Check', an exhibition of contemporary South African photography at the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (NBK) in Berlin, curated by Pam Warne of Iziko South African National Gallery. Her portraits feature alongside the acclaimed late Malian photographer, Seydou Keita at Danziger Projects, New York in 'Seydou Keita and Lolo Veleko Fashion'. Here Veleko's portraits show her subjects to be highly individualised and independent, suggesting an implicit collaboration between artist and sitter.
On accepting the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Visual Art, Veleko said, 'It's an affirmation to me that when I self-doubt the work I do, I AM NOT ALONE! This award means that someone in my own country has noticed and acknowledged my ideas that I would like to convey to the world about Africa and Africans. Therefore I am looking forward to collaborating with many Africans to tell our side of the story. I know that Wim Botha, Kathryn Smith and William Kentridge have won it in the past, so it shows me that I am on the right path'.
See ArtThrob's Artbio on Nontsikelelo Veleko