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Philiswa Lila wins coveted 2018 Gerard Sekoto Award

Rhodes University student, Philiswa Lila has won this year’s Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award. In her second-year of Masters in Art History (forms part of the SARChl research – The Geopolitics of Africa), her research focuses on questioning the role of ritual as a mediums of physicality and spirituality in African contemporary visual arts performance.

The Gerard Sekoto Award, sponsored by the Alliance Française, the Institut Français Afrique du Sud and the French Embassy, is awarded to a South African artist who has demonstrated continual improvement in the quality of their yearly entry in the L'Atelier competition.

Sekoto is widely recognised as the pioneer of black South African art as he changed the narrative of how the work and lives of black South African artists would be perceived, valued and documented. It was for these reasons that the Absa L'Atelier awards honoured the artist's legacy by introducing the Gerard Sekoto Award in 2004.

Having first entered the competition in 2009, during her undergraduate years, Lila said, “I was motivated to enter the competition again, as it had grown over the years. The prize is no longer simply financial, but offers a chance for artists to showcase their work abroad.”

Lila is an artist, writer and curator interested in art history and criticism within the visual arts. Her use of materials like beads is associated with ritual, traditional and cultural practices of Africa but her focus is in tackling issues of identity and self-identification, gender, sexuality, race and spirituality won her this award.

The criteria for entering the competition requires the artist submitting a picture of their artwork. After the first selection round, artists are then asked to send their pieces to Johannesburg for evaluation.

“I cannot believe that in its simplest form, my piece won,” exclaimed Lila. The beaded wooden block that won her the award was the first piece of her personalised collection, Self-Titled. Lila, who had been experimenting with beads for five years, said, “I had made a beaded piece, but after completion I realised the beads were too flat. So I found a piece of wood lying around, and decided to use it as a medium. I stretched the beads and covered the piece of wood, little did I know that it would become a beautiful piece of art.”

When asked why she used beads, Lila explained, “The beaded medium is considered craft. So working with beads was also a personal challenge to redefine how beads are perceived.”

Lila is excited to be counted among black female artists whose work is being featured on an international stage. She encourages other black and female artists to permeate the visual arts industry, which is largely dominated by men. After completing her MA, she wishes to motivate emerging artists through her work, and to educate herself and others on Sekoto and other South African artists like him.

“It’s important for us to remember who influenced the world of art as it stands today, and how.”

As the winner, Lila will receive French lessons through the Alliance Française, a three months’ residency at the Cité International des Arts in Paris and a solo exhibition in the Alliance Française network in South Africa and its partnering galleries.

Source: Rhodes University

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