Bfn artist makes waves in Cape Town

Winner of the 2021 StateoftheART Gallery Award, Zanoxolo Sylvester Mqeku.

Zanoxolo Sylvester Mqeku who was born in Mount Fletcher in the Eastern Cape, but has been living in Bloem since 2013, has recently been announced as winner of the 2021 StateoftheART Gallery Award for his sand-casting art pieces for which Mqeku received a cash prize of R40 000 to support the development of new work as well as a solo exhibition with StateoftheART Gallery, an independent commercial gallery in Cape Town, in 2022.

Mqeku joined the Oliewenhuis Art Museum in Bloemfontein as an intern when he came to the city and became a full-time employee in 2014. He is due to graduate with his Masters in Design and Studio Art, having researched the use of sand-casting as a ceramic studio technique and demonstrating how it can be adapted to public creative practice.

According to gallery owner, Jennifer Reynolds, the StateoftheART Gallery Award aims to champion contemporary art by emerging artists residing in South Africa, increasing exposure for their work, and encouraging further professional development opportunities. “Entrants were asked to submit work to the theme ‘On The Brink: Visualising Climate Change’ and were challenged to engage with the reality of climate crisis and its impact within a South African context.

“In its third year, the Gallery Award continues to raise the profile of contemporary artists working at the vanguard of their discipline. As the only artist in Africa with a ceramic studio dedicated to the use of sand casting, Mqeku fully embodies the spirit of the award,” Reynolds concluded.

The art work of the ten shortlisted finalists will be exhibited at the gallery until Saturday, 30 October. While more of Mqeku’s work can be seen and purchased at and a video on how the work was created can be watched here:

This work is titled “Manganese Particles” and reflects how human beings have been leaving their imprints on the earth’s surface for thousands of years, from the temple ruins like Gobelki Tepe in Turkey (12 000 years old), Adams Calendar in Waterval Boven Mpumalanga (75 000 old) or the gigantic Nazca Lines of Peru, South America (2000 years old), whether for creativity, spirituality or architectural purposes, in more ways than one this translates to the human impact on the environment. Materials used: Mixed media of manganese oxide and gold glaze on sandcast terracotta clay.
This work is titled “Carbon generations”. It is an emblem of innovative artistic studio practice a creative response to the needs of our current natural environment where human activities need to rethink in search of ways by which we may take from nature what we can put back. Materials used: Mixed media of red iron oxide, chrome oxide and rutile dioxide on sandcast terracotta clay


Justine Fortuin