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The 5 artists shaking up SA’s creative industry

Published on 5 November 2019

Blessing Ngobeni, Nthato Mokgata, Lulu Mlangeni, Jefferson Tshabalala, and Sisonke Xonti join the ranks of the Standard Bank Young Artists

Five of South Africa’s most innovative and talented creative individuals were named as the worthy recipients of one of the country’s most sought-after arts prizes – the Standard Bank Young Artist Award – at a ceremony in Johannesburg on Tuesday evening.

Since its inception in 1981, the Standard Bank Young Artist Awards have served as a marker for the kind of artistic work that’s being created, and aspired towards, across South Africa. This year’s batch of winners proves that the legacy of the SBYA awards is still one of passion, dedication, and a desire to carve out new ways of creating and engaging with art and the world around us.

The winners for 2020 are: Blessing Ngobeni (Art), Lulu Mlangeni (Dance), Jefferson Tshabalala (Theatre), Sisonke Xonti (Jazz) and Nthato Mokgata – also known by his stage name Spoek Mathambo (Music).

This year marks 36 years of Standard Bank’s sponsorship of the SBYA awards and sees each of these young artists receiving a cash incentive, as well as a commission to premiere a new work or exhibit on the Main Programme of the 46th National Arts Festival, which will take place in Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) from 25 June to 5 July 2020. 

Meet the artists

Nthato Mokgata – Music

Also known by his stage name Spoek Mathambo, Mokgata is a musician, artist, producer, rapper, and singer-songwriter. Through his solo career and projects such as Batuk and Fantasma, Mokgata has toured the globe extensively. He is also the director of Future Sounds of Mzansi, a documentary exploring South Africa’s cultural landscape, 20 years into democracy. WATCH VIDEO

Blessing Ngobeni – Visual Art

Ngobeni is a fine artist who strives to simultaneously uplift others, while challenging the status quo through his art. Through the use of painting, sculpture, video, audio installations and live performance Ngobeni speaks truth to power, continually highlighting and questioning corrupted systems of power in South Africa. Ngobeni also mentors and provides support for young artists. WATCH VIDEO

Sisonke Xonti – Jazz

Xonti is a jazz saxophonist, composer, and bandleader. A passionate collaborator, Xonti has worked with, and performed alongside artists such as Hugh Masekela, Lira, Bokani Dyer, and Simphiwe Dana to name a few. His full-length album, Iyonde, was released in 2017. WATCH VIDEO

Lulu Prudence Mlangeni – Dance

Mlangeni is a dancer, teacher, and choreographer. Mlangeni’s practice incorporates a strong element of texture to the art of movement and has seen her perform on stages across the world. Her recent dance piece CONFINED is inspired by the life political stalwart Winnie Madikizela Mandela. WATCH VIDEO

Jefferson Tshabalala – Theatre

Tshabalala is a writer, director, performer, and the founder and owner of the live arts production house, Kiri Pink Nob Arts (Pty) Ltd. Tshabalala merges poetry, hip-hop, comedy, and traditional dramatic arts to communicate nuanced and far-reaching stories. His recent work Ekasi Lam – An Ode to Kwaito premiered at the 2019 National Arts Festival. WATCH VIDEO

Speaking to the status quo

Nobesuthu Rayi, Executive Producer of the National Arts Festival, says that in addition to their high calibre of work, each young artist speaks to the status quo of the industry through their work.

“On behalf of the Festival, we congratulate the 2020 SBYAs – they are all deserving artists whose body of work speaks for itself,” says Rayi. “I have noticed with interest that all these artists are aware of the status quo of our arts industry in South Africa and they have strong opinions on the matter. To all the 2020 SBYAs, gqamani njengeenkwenkwezi enizizo. Shine like the stars you are.”

Brett Bailey, Chair of the NAF Artistic Committee, says that awards such as the SBYA Award give public validation to artists, providing them with the opportunity and confidence to spread their artistic wings. “They give a highly visible platform to the winners to showcase their work and to lift them from their crowded field, and the funding to make something new,” says Bailey.

Giving rise to SA’s creative economy

For Standard Bank, who have sponsored the award since 1984, the award presents an opportunity to continue nurturing platforms and artists who give rise to the creative economy of South Africa.  

Desiree Pooe, Head of Group Sponsorships at Standard Bank, says: “The curatorial committee looks for artists that have already proved themselves with a track record of work of high artistic quality that stands out within their field; artists who have a strong vision and are not shackled to the commercial mainstream. It is important for us to continue nurturing such platforms so that they are able to continue sharing their talent with not only our country, but the world at large which we have witnessed in many of our SBYAs both current and past.”