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‘South Africa’s artists can liberate us from fear’

Published on 30 October 2015

Here is the address given by National Arts Festival Creative Director Ismail Mahomed at the announcement of the winners of the 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist Award in Johannesburg on Wednesday night.

TONIGHT, we honour another group of Standard Bank Young Artists. Their names will be added to the prestigious honours list which already includes South African arts legends and icons such as William Kentridge, Sibongile Khumalo, Andrew Buckland, Dada Masilo, Gregory Vuyani Maqoma, Mikhael Subotzky, and more than a hundred other artists whose talents are celebrated both in South Africa and beyond our shores.

Artists whose names are written on this prestigious  honour’s list are a national cultural treasure. South Africa can celebrate them locally and we can be proud of how they represent us globally. These artists represent our nation’s aspirations for striving for excellence, innovation, diversity, engagement and inclusion.

Some of the events in South Africa this past week may have jolted us into re-assessing our transition to democracy. We can be assured that South African artists will document these moments in history through their music, poetry, theatre, visual art and dance. Their creativity will offer us the opportunity to reflect on these events, to critique it with integrity; and to re-visit, to re-envision and re-imagine our aspirations.

Their reflections of our society gives us the power to let our own light shine through. Their critique of our society raises our consciousness and it liberates us from our fears. Their imagination gives us the permission to dream the impossible. Their innovation takes us on a journey where the impossible is brought within reach. And where we fear to tread, they offer us courage and hope.

The public spillover from the arts is that is that it cultivates the kind of citizens that are desired in a pluralistic society such as ours. These are the kind of citizens that we need to hold our government accountable and to make it functional. These are the kind of citizens that we need who can offer the health sector the humanist values of the arts to heal and care for their patients.

These are the kind of citizens that we require to inspire our education sector so that they can liberate minds and inspire enquiry. These are the kind of citizens that we require to work together with the economic sector so that together we can nurture an entrepreneurial spirit and a deep passion to solve one of our country’s greatest challenges … poverty!

Over the past 32 years, Standard Bank has partnered with the National Arts Festival to recognize and invest in the potential of our artists and to give South Africa a rich tapestry of expression that is a part of our national identity. Since the end of the international cultural boycott of South Africa, some of our most excellent artists have used the brands of both the National Arts Festival and the Standard Bank to map out ways in which they can connect us with the rest of the globe.

This generation of Standard Bank Young Artists who we honour tonight will continue to open new gates for us all. They will inspire us, challenge us, give us the agency to dream the impossible and give us the courage to use our art to speak truth to power so that we can find the kind of solutions that go beyond just social media hashtags.

On behalf of our Board of Directors, the members of the Artistic Committee and the management of the National Arts Festival, I thank Standard Bank for its visionary sponsorship; and congratulate the winners of the 2016 Standard Bank Young Artist Awards.