The ABSA L’Atelier Awards have been running for the past 32 years. But up until three years ago, the competition only involved South African artists.

The first L’Atelier arts competition to be open to other African artists came in 2015. Since then, the contest has attracted original artworks by “creatives” from ten African countries: Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania as well as Botswana, Zambia, Ghana, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa and the Seychelles.

Kenyan artists featured in the top 100 since 2015. Among them were Jackie Karuti, Kevo Stero, Onyis Martin and Maral Bolouri. But this year the top prize went straight to the Kuona Trust-based artist Maral. Her ‘Mothers and Others’ installation was awarded for its ingenious investigation of African proverbs and their representations of women.

Her installation reveals that the overwhelming majority of proverbs represent women negatively. All across the region, women in proverbs are portrayed as lesser beings who are helpless and weak-minded.

But after months of research, Maral also found a few positive adages, although they mainly reflected well on mothers and women’s reproductive potential.

In three structures, her interactive installation juxtaposes the positive and the negative. In the first one, handmade iron cowbells dangle from a tall wooden frame. Each bell is attached to a proverb that represents women unfavorably. But beneath the bells is a triangular altar containing the few positive proverbs.

The second structure contains unlit candles suggesting that there’s hope for women in future, and the third one is blank but labeled with a public notice inviting people to write their own proverbs which represent women.

Maral has won a six month residency to the ‘Cite Internationale des Arts’ in Paris and a substantial cash award. It also entitles her along with the other top ten awardees a two day course on professionalism and how to effectively manage their fine art career. Read more