Known for her incisive portraits which grapple with both iconography and iconoclasm, Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi recent paintings take place in the arena of elite gymnastics.
Nkosi was born in 1980 in New York, and raised between Harare and Johannesburg where she now lives. She obtained her BA from Harvard University (2004) and her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York (2008).
Known for her incisive portraits which grapple with both iconography and iconoclasm, her recent paintings take place in the arena of elite gymnastics. With the human body performing at, and sometimes seemingly beyond, the limits of the possible, the gymnasts become actors, producing layered narratives of far-reaching metaphorical and political significance, presenting a challenge to the precariousness of the black body in traditionally white spaces. Nkosi states, ‘Looking at gymnastics, I see echoes of the process of painting – expression within the demands of form, attention to balance and geometry. I also see parallels with the painter’s position in the contemporary art world. The artist, like the gymnast, is a performer (if at times a reluctant performer) whose actions are subjected to constant scrutiny’. Nkosi divides her time between studio work, performance and navigating the field of art as social practice. Her first solo exhibition with Stevenson is scheduled for early 2020.
Group exhibitions include NIEPODLEGŁE, Women, Independence and National Discourse, Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw (2018); Art/Afrique, le nouvel atelier, Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris (2017); Kabbo ka Muwala (The Girl’s Basket), National Gallery of Zimbabwe, Harare (2016); The Film Will Always Be You, Tate Modern, London (2015); The Johannesburg Pavilion, Venice (2015); The Space Between Us, Ifa Gallery, Berlin (2013); Gulbenkian Next Future Program, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon (2011); and (Re)constructions: Contemporary Art in South Africa, Museum of Contemporary Art, Niterói, Rio de Janeiro (2011).
The annual Tollman Award for the Visual Arts was founded in 2003. A grant of R100 000 is given to a young artist who has received critical recognition but is hampered by limited resources to realise the potential of his or her work. Recipients may spend the award as they wish to create new work, travel, study or produce a publication.
Since its inception the award has significantly helped develop the careers of its recipients. Wim Botha, Churchill Madikida, Mustafa Maluka, Zanele Muholi, Nicholas Hlobo, Paul Edmunds, Sabelo Mlangeni, Serge Alain Nitegeka, Ian Grose, Kemang Wa Lehulere, Portia Zvavahera, Mawande Ka Zenzile, Simphiwe Ndzube, Cinga Samson and Thierry Oussou are previous recipients.
After consultation with artists and curators, Michael Stevenson offers a shortlist to the Tollman family who select an artist whose work resonates with them.
The award is an acknowledgement of the family’s commitment to the extraordinary creativity of art from South Africa and further afield. Toni Tollman, on behalf of the family, said that offering the awards has been a defining moment for the family who have, for the past 40 years, been major collectors of South African art and filled their homes and hotels with works by South African artists.
More recently the Tollman family have installed a timeline exhibition of all the award winners in the headquarters of their Travel Corporation in Los Angeles and in Geneva.