Lerato Nkosi’s entry for the ANNA Award features words inspired by Bell Hooks’ All About Love and is endowed with a cash prize and a residency.
ANNA and Latitudes announcing Lerato Nkosi as inaugural winner of their newly established ANNA Award. The aim of the award is to discover, recognise and nurture a new generation of women artists in South Africa. Nkosi receives a R100,000 cash prize, a month residency at PLAAS #inplaasvan in Franschhoek, South Africa, a profile on Latitudes Online, and a year’s supply of ANNA products. Her winning artwork will be included in the ANNA Awards Collection.
Lerato Nkosi is fascinated by the influence we wield over each other, and how – with a word of encouragement, a piece of advice or a gentle nudge in a certain direction – one person can change another’s life. She’s even more intrigued by the fact that, often, it’s a woman who holds this transformative power.
Lerato’s reflection on this theme can be explained by her own life experience: growing up in the Mpumalanga village of Swalala, she was raised by her mother and grandmother – both strong, single women. “My father passed away when I was one year old, and my mother had to raise me and my siblings alone. In some ways, history was repeating itself – my grandfather had to leave my grandmother to earn money. He became a bus driver in Johannesburg, while she remained in Swalala to look after their eight children – all of whom have become successful in their own right.”
Lerato had just 12 years to experience the nurturing of her two fierce female carers, before her grandmother fell ill, and her uncle suggested she move in with his family, where she could enjoy the benefits of growing up with two parents.
It was also her uncle who suggested she study subjects like biology and physical science in high school – which, she admits, she failed dismally. “I was far more drawn to the visual arts,” Lerato says – which is why she chose to study fashion design at the Tshwane University of Technology. She followed this path for some time after graduation, moving to Cape Town where she took on a post as a visual merchandiser for a major retail chain before deciding to freelance as a trends forecaster.
Then, in 2020, she decided it was time to focus on her art, around the same time she relocated to Johannesburg. “I’d always planned to get back into creating. Because it was something that came easily to me, I believed I could pick it up again when the time was right,” Lerato says. Her instinct was spot on: galleries had already begun taking notice of her work, starting with an exhibition at the AVA Gallery. Just a few years later, in 2021, she was chosen to take part in RMB Talent Unlocked; a showcase celebrating young female artists.
Lerato maintains that programmes like this – and like the recently launched ANNA Award – are crucial platforms. “It’s vital that we create these opportunities for women artists. Our voices need to be heard,” she insists, pointing to the evolution of women as an object of the Gaze, as during the Renaissance, to today’s compelling creators.
She takes her own role as a creator very seriously. Lerato explains that the message behind her ink and stamp depictions are amplified by her choice of words adorning the piece, usually a text she’s read or a scene from a film. The presence of these words means that the viewer is required to lean in to take a closer look, inviting them to engage with the meaning at a deeper level.
Lerato’s entry for the ANNA Award featured words inspired by her reading of Bell Hooks’ All About Love: “The book held special resonance for me because of its reference to the author’s upbringing, and the values that developed out of her experiences,” Lerato says. In the same way, she often thinks about the resilience that she was gifted through her own upbringing, and how this helped her grow into the person she is today.
That person is both focused and determined (“I feel like I manifested my ANNA Award win, because I knew it would open so many doors!” she says) – and while she’s proud of what her past holds, she’s even more excited about the future. Lerato is currently preparing for a number of international art competitions and, in each case, her body of work carries the same message. “I want to remind women of our strength. I want to tell whoever is looking at my work that we don’t have to be victims; we have the power to change our circumstances.” – by Lisa Witepski