'La Ballade Noctambule' (2022), an acrylic-on-canvas painting featuring a woman pushing her drunk husband in a wheelbarrow, beat out works by 30 artists from 16 different African countries to win this year’s Norval Sovereign African Art Prize.
Artist Famakan Magassa uses ‘morbid humour to discuss difficult themes such as addiction, desperation and conflict’, often portraying his subjects – as in his award-winning ‘The night owl’s song’ – in a grotesque yet comical light.
The young Malian, who is currently represented by the New York gallery Albertz Benda, commented that the award is ‘an honour and source of pride for me and for the Malian people’. The award comes with prize money and the opportunity to hold a solo exhibition at the Cape Town-based Norval Foundation gallery. Magassa follows South African artist Bonolo Kavula as the second winner of the grand prize.
Magassa earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2018 from the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers Multimédia Balla Fasseké Kouyaté in Bamako, Mali. In 2020 he was one of the laureates of the Cité Internationale des Arts Residency in Paris, and he has exhibited in New York and Paris.
The Norval Sovereign African Art Prize was founded in 2021 by the Sovereign Art Foundation and the Norval Foundation to increase the international exposure of African artists. The Sovereign Art Foundation was founded in 2003 to recognise, support and promote contemporary art talent, while the Norval Foundation is dedicated to the research, understanding and care of twentieth- and twenty-first-century visual art from Africa and its diasporas.
The annual award is open to artists from any country on the African continent. After being nominated by a board of independent art professionals, African contemporary artists can each enter up to three artworks into the competition.
All the artworks shortlisted for this year’s award, excluding ‘La Ballade Noctambule’, are on exhibition at the Norval Foundation gallery in Steenberg, Cape Town, until 20 March, when they will go up for auction by fine-arts auctioneer Sotheby’s.
African consciousness illuminated
Photograph: Norval Foundation and Sovereign Art Foundation.