Three undergraduates won awards and a cash bonanza during the online opening of an art exhibition.  

A fine arts student was declared the first-prize winner of the Wits Young Artist Award 2021 (WYAA’21), worth R12 000, during the online opening of an exhibition on Friday, August 12. 

The theme for WYAA’21 is ‘’cruel optimism’’.  Aneesah Girie, the first-prize winner, approaches the theme by exploring the materiality of the hijab/headscarf and framing. She says, “The frame makes reference to how the veiled Muslim woman is viewed.”  

The exhibition was curated by Kundai Moyo, a Wits alumnus. “The theme creates enough room to consider our ways of being, how we related before the pandemic and how we begin to imagine new ways of moving forward,” Moyo told Wits Vuvuzela. “I felt it would be important to put out a call that responded to this current moment.” 

The competition is open to third-year fine arts students. This exhibition is comprised of pieces from nine students.  

“I think all the works that formed part of this year’s exhibition really grapple with the themes explored in the call, in ways that are [relevant] to today,” said Moyo. 

First-prize winner, Aneesah Girie, with her artwork, Me and You. Photo: Sinenhlanhla Sibisi

Nina Jacobson and Yakira Gischen each received a merit award worth R6 500. 

Jacobson uses a hanger and razor blades to explore the idea of self-harm and her struggles with overcoming harm done to the body. She said, “My work comes from a very personal space and sharing my own experience has brought through connections with others I did not anticipate, but I am thankful to have been provided a space to talk about this.” 

In a video, Gischen places the idea of ‘’cruel optimism’’ within the scope of the Jewish religion. “This piece is a representational struggle of existing in a patriarchal space that no longer serves me [as a young Jewish woman], but the need and wish for a change in this space,” she said. This is her first work to be projected in a gallery, and she describes the occasion as “a bucket-list moment” for her.  

The winning works were selected by an independent panel consisting of Lady Skollie, a feminist artist; Londi Modike, a curator; and Refilwe Nkomo, director of the Visual Arts Network of South Africa. 

The exhibition can be viewed at the Point of Order art gallery in Braamfontein from Tuesdays to Saturdays, from 10am to 2pm, until September 4. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Aneesah Girie and Nina Jacobson, two of the fine arts students whose work is being exhibited at the Point of Order art gallery in Braamfontein. Photo: Sinenhlanhla Sibisi