By Andrew Mulenga
South African artists appear to be the dominant force in the run up to the inaugural US$25,000 Sovereign African Art Prize to be awarded later this month.
A statement made available to the Weekend Post through The Sovereign Art Foundation, a charity registered in Hong Kong and the UK that helps disadvantaged children using the arts, this week announced 20 shortlisted artists from across the African continent.
Made available through the foundation's contact person Nick Crabb, the statement proclaimed the finalists will have their works exhibited at this years Johannesburg Art Fair from 23 to 25 September where the judging panel will view the artwork live and decide on the winner. Besides a cash prize of US$25,000, the winner will also get a residency at South Africa's Nirox Foundation which offers residency to internationally acclaimed artists that is said to provide insight and access to the region’s heritage and vibrant socio-political development. Here, the winners work will continue being exhibited through October.
Among the finalists are 8 South Africans - Themba Shibase, Karlien de Villiers, David Lurie, Gerhard Marx, Thomas Mulcaire, Peter van Straten and Barbara Wildenboer. Olanyi Rasheed Akindiya, Andrew Esiebo and Emeka Okereke are Nigeria's hopefuls whereas Peterson Kamwathi Waweru and Michael Wambua Soi are Kenya's representation. Also up for the award are Mustapha Akrim and Hassan Hajjaj from Morocco, Francois-Xavier Gbre from the Ivory Coast, Egypt's Khaled Hafez, Mali's Harandane Dicko and Calvin Dondo from Zimbabwe.
While artists were nominated by country nominators, the 20 finalists were selected by a world class judging panel which included; Robert Devereux, British tycoon Richard Branson's former business partner at Virgin. In 1996 Devereux sold his interests in Virgin in order to concentrate on his family, leisure investments and his charitable activities. In November 2010 Robert sold the bulk of his British art collection in order to fund the establishment of The African Arts Trust a foundation whose aims are to support visual art organisations in sub Saharan Africa. Devereux is the founding Chairman of the Tate's African Acquisition Committee. Riason Naidoo, who recently directed the South Africa-Mali Project: Timbuktu Manuscripts for the South African Presidency and the Department of Arts & Culture (2003-2009), also NEPAD's first cultural project. He is currently director of the South African National Gallery. Simon Njami, a Paris-based independent curator, lecturer, art critic and co-founder and editor-in-chief of Revue Noire, a journal of contemporary African art. He also co-curated the first African pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007. Njami has curated numerous exhibitions of African art and photography, including Africa Remix (2004/2007) and the first African Art Fair, held in Johannesburg in 2008; Julian Ozanne, widespread knowledge of Africa - its countries, politics, influential people and the business environment. He worked for the Financial Times and was foreign correspondent serving as Middle East Correspondent and Africa Bureau Chief. He has advised a number of US and European investment banks on business and political risk in Africa and worked for the World Economic Forum. Born in Kenya, raised in southern Africa, semi-fluent in Kiswahili and Sesotho, he has long and deep political and personal links with Africa. For the past several years he has been building a small collection of contemporary art including African art.