Cut off: Winner Jessica Kapp with her rammed-earth columns and embedded-object installation Mapping Time. Picture: SUPPLIED
Cut off: Winner Jessica Kapp with her rammed-earth columns and embedded-object installation Mapping Time. Picture: SUPPLIED

When the Sasol New Signatures winners are announced annually and the exhibition opens to the public, the work always captures a zeitgeist.

The winner in 2018, Jessica Storm Kapp, 22, from Stellenbosch won the coveted award for her rammed-earth columns and embedded-object installation Mapping Time.

Personal stories with a universal message was 2018’s focus. Kapp’s work comments on the disastrous Knysna fires. As a student in Stellenbosch, she felt cut off from her home during the disaster.

"I knew I had to capture the emotion of time," she says. So she collected soil, charred objects and other traces of the fire, which all found their way into the winning work.

"It’s only a year on and already there’s hardly a trace of the fire left," Kapp says. This was her attempt to illustrate concepts such as loss, trace, place attachment and reflection.

It’s about creating beauty. It’s a belief in the value of art
Peter Mikael

She is completing her BA (Visual Arts) at Stellenbosch University. Through various printmaking techniques, photography, sculpture and installation, she aims to create immersive moments in which viewers can experience the essence of a place.

As the winner of Sasol New Signatures 2018, Kapp received a cash prize of R100,000 and the chance to host a solo exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum in 2019, which will mark the 30th year that Sasol has sponsored SA’s longest-running art competition. "Regarding the pressing issues of land, including pre-, post-and de-colonial struggles, the work’s ability to ambiguously navigate through and around these sensitive issues makes it worthy of being the winning artwork," the chair of the judging panel, Prof Pieter Binsbergen, says of Kapp’s work.

Cape Town artist Peter Mikael Campbell’s work in pencil Kaisen, which means "change for better" in Japanese, won him the second prize of R25,000.

"It’s about creating beauty. It’s a belief in the value of art," he explains, saying that it can contribute to a better world.

The five merit winners all brought the personal into their works. For Kelly Crouse from Port Elizabeth, her work Medication: C23H27N3O7 is about a skin disorder she had as a child and the crippling effect it had on her life.

Also from Port Elizabeth, Debbie Fann used her family’s business to explore her identity. Her parents own a Chinese restaurant where she waitressed for a while. In her work Cheque or Savings? she uses a restaurant bill to tell her story. On one side of the work is an actual bill; on the other side she plays light heartedly.

"I use parody, for example, and change certain dishes like deepfried rice to dogfried or that oft used phrase, ‘Made in China’," Fann says.

Megan Serfontein, another University of Stellenbosch student, uses technology to make her point. She wrote a programme to illustrate how people react differently when they know they are being watched or filmed, for example.

Her untitled work is a monitor that changes as people stand in front of it — the viewer becomes the art.

Pierre Henri Le Riche of Cape Town used porcelain slave bells for Ap(peal) I & Ap(peal) II. It can be viewed as museum relics with a play on history, or stories told by the victors.

Regarding his striking wood sculpture The Leader Shall Govern, Mulatedzi Moshapo from Polokwane says his medium isn’t the only determining factor — the people he features are showing their world and their unhappiness.

Each merit award winner received a R10,000 cash prize.

The 2017 winner Lebohang Kganye’s first solo exhibition, Mohlokomedi wa Tora (Lighthouse Keeper), runs in conjunction with the 2018 Sasol New Signatures exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum.

"It’s an ongoing conversation with my grandmother," she notes. It is cramped in its current space, not quite allowing the work to breathe as expansively as it should.

Charlotte Mokoena, Sasol executive vice-president for human resources and corporate affairs, urges the artists to continue being fearless, to challenge society and evaluate the lenses through which it views the world. "It is by doing so that you unconsciously give others the permission to be boundless in their pursuit of their happiness and purpose. Be limitless," she said.

The exhibition is at the Pretoria Art Museum in Arcadia Park until October 7.