Cate Terblanche – Curator of the Sasol Art Collection talks about the Sasol New Signatures Art Competition

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your role as Curator of the Sasol Art Collection?

I started with Sasol in 2017, just after their move to the new global headquarters in Sandton. I was afforded the unique opportunity to install this iconic collection from scratch in the new surroundings. Much of my focus has been on rethinking the role of art in a corporate environment.  Many of the artworks have been part of Sasol’s history and fabric for many years and have always been viewed in a specific context and setting.  I have tried to reframe these by viewing the individual works as mini conversations between the people who occupy the spaces and the artworks. My duties as Curator also extends to the Sasol New Signatures Art Competition, something which I am passionate about.  I’ve always been inspired by young talent and love seeing them evolve into artists who occupy meaningful roles in our society.

If one has to page through previous Sasol New Signatures catalogues, what are some of the qualities or commonalities that would be found in the winners (overall, runners up and merit award winners) over the years?

This may sound contradictory if asked about commonalities, but what I find interesting is the variety of works and themes dealt with in each competition, and how these reflect our lived experiences.  While we often see trends which reflect some of the hot social and political topics experienced in our country, these works often do not feature in the winner’s circle.  The works which do feature are definitely conceptually complex and have a greater relevance to society in general.   

There are obvious benefits to making it into the SNS Art Competition – prize money, exhibition opportunities, media coverage and more – but what are some of the lesser-known benefits of submitting one’s work for consideration by the judges? What can the overall experience do for a young artist?

For an emerging artist, one of the biggest confidence boosters is to have their work selected for this competition.  It validates what you are doing as an artist, and you are able to compare your work to those on a similar path.  It also exposes you to different ideas and ways of producing art and stimulates creativity.  But for the artist who is willing to do some introspection, a lot of the benefit lies in having an objective pool of work to evaluate your own work against.  For the artist willing to ask difficult questions of themselves, be critical of their own artmaking, it could be an opportunity for growth.

Partnerships and sponsorships are vital to the competition’s success and impact. How have the New Signatures competition and the Sasol brand evolved alongside one another over the years?

The Association of the Arts Pretoria celebrates their 75th year this year, and Sasol has been a partner in the competition since 1990, a lifetime in many respects. We’ve also been supported by longtime partners the Pretoria Art Museum and the City of Tshwane, and Stuttafords Van Lines who both play a crucial role in logistical support and execution.  The impact of the pandemic in particular forced us to rethink our approach, and in many ways, we have been able to improve and streamline the presentation and organization of the competition, which has been a positive outcome. The Sasol New Signatures Art Competition has taken on a new significance for both partners as we explore new ways to share and support our emerging artists.

The 2021 overall winner Andrea du Plessis will also be hosting her solo exhibition Supernature: Simulacra this year. Are you able to speak a bit about the exhibition at this stage? What can viewers expect?

Andrea unfortunately had to deal with a shorter time frame than usual to complete the works for the solo, due to the impact of the fourth wave and the revised timelines for the 2021 competition.  However, she has been incredibly focused and motivated, and I am very excited about her solo.  From the title, her solo will obviously be an extension of the work that she entered for the 2021 competition, further exploring some of the related ideas.   I have had a sneak preview, and I am incredibly excited about the way the exhibition is being approached.

Lastly, what can art competitions like Sasol New Signatures tell us about the shifting currents and influences of South African art over the decades? Looking at the history of winning works, is there a definable narrative or set of moments that emerge?     

There has been an interesting tendency towards the use of technology, not only in the production of works, but also as a concept.  The boundaries between technology and art are challenged by many artists, sometimes not even in a deliberate or intentional manner.  It is a given that technology is part of the artist’s ‘toolkit’, and probably as revolutionary and now common place as the invention of ready mixed paint in tubes and photography.  There is also an awareness of how we as humans tread the earth, and our responsibility to each other and the world at large.  It’s as if art no longer has to ‘shock’ to be relevant, but rather it has become an invitation that calls us to engage with the world in a more responsible manner.