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Alumni and students raise the TUT flag high at top art competition

by Gerrit Bester Six Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) alumni students and four current students made TUT proud at this year's Sasol New Signatures Art Competition. Between the ten, there is a merit award winner and nine finalists who were recognised during a well-oiled award ceremony hosted at the Pretoria Art Museum on Wednesday, 6 September.

Visual Communication alum Ofentse Letebele (34), also known as King Debs, was named one of five merit award winners for his mixed media entry (acrylic paint on MDF), titled Neo and Bina, respectively.

Letebele’s work delves into the exploration of memory and time, presenting a profound examination of indigenous knowledge systems.

Through the development of a sophisticated visual language, he has constructed a unique system and alphabet that encapsulate the essence of movement, archiving self-identity and self-preservation. The materials he works with are chosen specifically, as he believes that developing his own mixed media best captures the essence and consistency of his subject matter. By mixing various water-based compounds and adhesives and applying them to medium-density fibreboard, the materials allow him to reimagine calligraphy in an innovative way that is texturally rich and tactile.

Asked what this accolade means to him, he said: "It is my first art award and I am extremely grateful for the recognition. Now. I need to push even harder, reimagine and apply myself all over again."

He won R10 000.

Bridget Modema (31), an alum of the Department of Fine and Studio Arts, was also among the 118 finalists. It is the second time that she has reached this leg of the competition.

Her entry features a range of cleverly designed cards each of which took eighteen hours to create. It is titled Emphatic Visions: E1 NFT Trading Cards.

It is a transformative, limited-edition collection that merges art, Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology, storytelling and Emotional Intelligence (EI). These trading cards not only address social and mental well-being but also push the boundaries of artistic expression and offer a captivating Augmented Reality (AR) experience where each card and character possesses unique abilities. In the wake of the post-COVID crisis, these trading cards provide a platform for healing, understanding and resilience, particularly in South Africa. By delving into the depths of EI, viewers are encouraged to reflect on their emotional journeys and cultivate essential skills such as empathy and self-awareness through interacting with the cards.

The other alumni finalists from the Department of Fine and Studio Arts are Sello Letswalo (30), for his painting titled Mmakgomo (African identity and role of the woman) (oil on treated steel), Wisani Manyisi (38), for a drawing titled The queen still standing (mixed media), Livhuwani Muthivhithi (30), for a drawing titled Muphaso 'Hawan' (A ceremony of burned offerings) (ink on canvas), and Naledi Sekgopi (27) for her ceramic sculpture titled LETSOKU for the suicidal (clay).

Four current students also didn’t leave the award ceremony without accolades and are quite proud to be selected as finalists, which is no small achievement.

They are Postgraduate Diploma (Department of Fine and Studio Arts) students Francois Pietersen (23) and Inga Lokwe (24), as well as Thabang Mamabolo (31) from the Department of Design Studies and Lithabo Mmoa (24), a third-year student at the Department of Fine and Studio Arts.

Both Francois and Lithabo’s artworks interrogate male identity and stereotypes. Francois’ work is titled Baby’s breath ball (bronze and copper) and Lithabo’s, Real men drink beer (acrylic and oil on canvas).

Inga’s artwork is a diptych in glass, steel and cement and is titled Breaking free I & II. It is a glass artwork that explores the concept of toxic femininity within the realm of sports and societal gender norms. Inga is a dedicated female athlete who aims to shed light on the harmful effects of toxic femininity, which criticizes women who engage in activities traditionally associated with masculinity, such as boxing or rugby.

Thabang, who specialises in Jewellery Design, entered a work titled Finding home: A life-long journey (sterling silver, copper, ostrich eggshell and pearl). It provides commentary on the Khoisan people being hugely sidelined and still struggling to have their language officially recognised, although they are the first inhabitants of South Africa.

In congratulating the winners, Prof Pfunzo Sidogi, Head of the Department of Fine and Studio Arts and National Chairperson of Sasol New Signatures, said: “It is always gratifying to see TUT students and alumni being recognised in national art competitions like this one. All the TUT-linked finalists, especially Ofentse Letebele, submitted excellent work and I wish them continued success in their respective journeys as professional artists”.

Ingoma Yothando, or Song of Love translated from isiZulu, is the solo exhibition by Mondli Mbhele, winner of Sasol New Signatures 2022, which also forms part of this year’s exhibition.

The Sasol New Signatures competition, presented in collaboration with the Association of Arts Pretoria, has been a platform for promoting emerging artists and their work to the art-loving public at large. Many of the works now have a proud place in the Sasol art collection. This year, a total of 765 entries were received from all over the country.

The overall winner for 2023 is Nosiviwe Matikinca from Gqeberha with an artwork titled Ndiziphiwe –­ They were given to me. It is a ceramic installation about underprivileged learners who wear school shoes that are handed down to them by their older siblings or family members.

The Sasol New Signatures exhibition takes place at the Pretoria Art Museum until 29 October 2023.

Visual Communication alum Ofentse Letebele was named one of five merit award winners with mixed media artworks (acrylic paint on MDF), titled Neo and Bina, respectively.

Bridget Modema, an alum of the Department of Fine and Studio Arts, was also among this year’s 118 finalists. Here she poses with her artwork, titled Emphatic Visions: E1 NFT Trading Cards.

Postgraduate Diploma: Fine and Studio Arts student Francois Pietersen with his artwork, titled Baby’s breath ball.

Inga Lokwe’s artwork is a diptych in glass, steel and cement and is titled Breaking free I & II.

Thabang Mamabolo (31) with his artwork, titled A life-long journey.

Lithabo Mmoa (24) photographed with his artwork, titled Real men drink beer.

Fine and Studio Arts alumni Theolophus Rikhotso, Sello Letswalo (2023 Finalist), and Naval Seakamela pictured at the awards ceremony.


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