Introduction to our new Chairperson | Sasol New Signatures

Introduction to our new Chairperson

Pfunzo Sidogi has been announced as the new National Chairperson for Sasol New Signatures 2020. Having already earned his Master's Degree in Fine Art (cum laude) from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), he is studying towards his doctorate at Stellenbosch University as well pursuing his career as a lecturer in the Department of Fine and Applied Arts at (TUT).  In an interview with Sidogi, we ask some topical questions about his appointment and the the role of art in our lives...

Congratulations on your appointment as the new National Chairperson for Sasol New Signatures!  In your new role, what are you most looking forward to?

I am definitely looking forward to having front row access to the top artistic talent emerging from the country.

You have been part of Sasol New Signatures in a different role - as a judge - in your view how does this competition contribute to the development of a strong “Arts Culture” in South Africa?

The previous chair of the Sasol New Signatures, Professor Pieter Binsbergen, has noted on several occasions that this competition is a national asset. I am in full agreement with this diagnosis. Firstly, because the competition incentivises art production by making a career in the visual arts viable. And secondly, it creates a space for emerging and highly talented artists to insert themselves into the ultra-competitive local and global art arena.

How important is art education and do you think enough is being done to support the Fine Arts at primary and secondary level? What can be done differently - considering all our socio-economic demands?

Punting the societal value of art and art education is easy. But paradoxically, it is also a very difficult sell. Very few people will dispute the importance of art, but yet the state arts education in the majority of our public schools is concerning. I think the best way to tackle this challenge is to set up ‘magnetic’ schools around the country. For example, in Gauteng, there are fantastic government-managed arts magnetic schools such as the National School of the Arts (Johannesburg), the East Rand School of the Arts (Ekurhuleni), and Pro Arte (Tshwane). However, since 1994, why haven’t more public schools in either Soweto, Tembisa, Mamelodi, Garankuwa, etc., been transformed into magnetic schools? That said, the private schools have been the torchbearers in expanding the provision of quality arts education within primary and secondary grades. But as we all know, private schooling is not accessible to everyone.

Sasol New Signatures doesn’t have any upper age limitations and more mature candidates have done well in the past.  Do you think “ageism” exists in the visual arts?

For the most part, the visual arts industry in South Africa and the world generally is kind towards older practitioners. In fact, some of the most successful artists are older, and this is because it takes time to build a lucrative art career. I am proud of the fact that Sasol New Signatures provides a platform for older artists to enter the industry.

Many entries come from young students. What is your advice to those who have just graduated from their undergraduate degree? Should they push on with further studies or get some work and life experience first?

Like any career, genuine and sustained success is nurtured over time. Young artists have to immerse themselves in whatever they decide to do post their studies. They cannot be lukewarm or half-hearted in their approach and work ethic.

You have been involved with Sasol New Signatures for a number of years - can you identify any significant changes in terms of the quality and quantity of entries being received. And has there been any noticeable shifts in artistic medium?

Since my first stint as a regional judge in 2015, there has been a consistency of high-class entries year-on-year. In fact, this consistency can be traced in the very first catalogue published in 2005. Perhaps, the most common thread that runs through all the years I have been involved with the competition is the diversity of materiality the artists engage with.

Can you identify common mistakes entrants make and what advice can you offer on how to avoid these?

The technical mistakes related to presentation and the ‘finish’ of the artworks are recurring but in many ways expected since the competition is geared towards emerging artists. However, another common mistake is that artists try to do and say too much in one artwork. I will appropriate the tagline of a popular South African bank and say ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’. In other words, artists tend to think that it is the ‘grand idea’ or the ‘elaborate’ masterpiece that does well in the competition. The opposite is true. If you look at the winning artworks from the past three years, they dealt with the personal histories/realities of the artists, the mediums used were not overly sophisticated, i.e. the artists used accessible materials such as paper cut-outs, concrete, oil on canvas etc., and the artworks communicated a very clear, uncomplicated message. So the advice is, keep it simple and stay true to your own creative process. Do not try to adopt fashionable trends.