South African Cultural Observatory

Six Artists Scoop The 2021 Standard Bank Young Artists Awards

BY 30.09.21

Six young South African artists were the successful winners and recipients of the Standard Bank Young Artists for 2021. The fortunate artists are Kristi-Leigh Gresse (Dance), Vuma Levin (Jazz), Buhlebezwe Siwani (Visual Art), Cara Stacey (Music), Gavin Krastin (Performance Art) and Thando Doni (Theatre).

Each of the artists will receive a cash incentive, as well as a commission to premiere a new work or exhibit on the main programme of the 2022 National Arts Festival.

Standard Bank described the award as “a badge of honour and a golden opportunity; a recognition of creativity, originality, talent, hard work, ambition and imagination – and a platform on which to build in pursuit of new artistic achievements”.

These artists and ones that have come before them have been described as “subversive and provocative”, and tackled the issues of the day head-on; but also produced work that remains significant, urgent and inspiring today. Their brief profiles (below) show a level of dedication and talent.

Kristi-Leigh Gresse has collaborated with a remarkable variety of South Africa’s dancers and choreographers, developing her own ‘voice’ as an artist as her work has cohered thematically around the politics of the body as well as expressions of collective and individual identity. She won a Standard Bank Ovation Gold Award for Sullied at the National Arts Festival in 2018 and went on to win the South East Dance Award at the Brighton Fringe Festival in 2019, before being commissioned to produce a dance screen offering for the digital JOMBA! Festival in 2020.

Vuma Levin is a guitarist whose compositions combine South African musical traditions with jazz, pop and electronics. He has lived and worked in Madrid, Amsterdam, Basel and Johannesburg. After teaching at various conservatoriums in the Netherlands, he returned to South Africa to take up a lecturing post at the University of the Witwatersrand. He has produced four studio albums to date, and his latest – the concept album Antique Spoons, which is also accompanied by the release of three short films – has been critically acclaimed for its virtuosity.

Buhlebezwe Siwani works in a variety of media, focusing on embodied performance, installations and sculpture, but also exploring the creative possibilities of the canvas, paper, photography and video. She completed postgraduate degrees at the Wits School of Arts and the Michaelis School of Fine Arts. Following residencies in France, Switzerland and the Netherlands, her work has been exhibited from Europe to Asia and Australasia to America. She has also published two books, Imfihlo (2015) and Qab’Imbola (2018). She lives in Amsterdam and Cape Town.

Cara Stacey is committed to contextualising and preserving indigenous southern African music, and to connect it to different musical histories and sound forms. She trained in piano and the umrhubhe, uhadi and makhweyane (traditional musical bows), and has also studied the mbira and budongo. In addition to being a composer and performer, she is a musicologist and scholar who holds a Ph.D. and is a Senior Lecturer in African Music at North-West University. Her work is described as “rich and complex, and at the same time beautifully accessible”.

Gavin Krastin is a performance artist, scenographer and arts educator. The National Arts Festival Artistic Committee notes that he has “revitalised the field” of performance art by managing to be “risky and brave” and, at the same time, “mindful and meticulous” – thus “opening the door” for a new generation of artists. Based in Cape Town, he challenges audiences with discomfiting meditations on the politics of representing the body within his immediate South African context and situating these local concerns alongside global considerations.

Thando Doni has worked extensively with independent physical theatre company Magnet Theatre and numerous other theatre organisations. He won Best Director at the Baxter Theatre’s Zabalaza Theatre Festival in 2011 and was awarded a GIPCA director’s bursary in 2012. The National Arts Festival Artistic Committee affirms that Doni is “one of the rare theatre-makers who works across the board – from young people to ex-offenders and professional performers” and that he crafts “profound and profoundly moving”, life-changing experiences for both performers and audiences.

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