Described as a ‘social archaeologist’, Thierry Oussou, born 1988 in Allada, Benin, uses various media to reflect on complexities and curiosities from the perspective of a constant traveller between spaces and across continents. He received the 14th Tollman Award for the Visual Arts for his widely acknowledged work.
The 14th Tollman Award for the Visual Arts has been given to young Beninese artist Thierry Oussou. The annual award 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.
Oussou was born in 1988 in Allada, Benin, and lives between Amsterdam and Allada. Described as a ‘social archaeologist’, Oussou uses his direct experience of the spaces in which he finds himself to reflect on the complexities and curiosities inherent to the present moment. Using various media including painting, sculpture and video, Oussou approaches his work from the perspective of a constant traveller between spaces and across continents. His references span filial ethnic groups (Adja, 2018), witnessed landmarks (On Mandela Bridge, 2018) and resonant art forms (La Poésie, 2017) as the artist embraces a consciousness of being both inside and outside situations, resident and visitor, with an accompanying awareness of the sensorial qualities of both past and present tenses.
Oussou has held solo exhibitions at Tiwani Contemporary, London (2018) and Stevenson, Johannesburg (2018). His most recent group exhibitions include We don’t need another Hero, 10th Berlin Biennale (2018); Restless Matter, CoBrA Museum, Amstelveen (2018); and Gaia in the Anthropocene, Garage Rotterdam (2018). In 2016, Oussou was awarded the first Jacqueline van Tongeren Fellowship at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, and was nominated for the Dutch Royal Award for Modern Painting. He has participated in residencies at Arthouse Foundation, Lagos (2017) and Rijksakademie, Amsterdam (2015-2016). Oussou founded the art studio Yè in his hometown of Allada; he continues to give workshops on arts and visual culture in schools and cultural institutions across Benin.
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 and Mawande Ka Zenzile, Simphiwe Ndzube and Cinga Samson are previous recipients.
Botha, Madikida, Hlobo and Wa Lehulere have gone on to receive the Standard Bank Young Artist Award. Sabelo Mlangeni is the subject of a career survey exhibition at the Wits Art Museum, and Wim Botha’s Heliostat, featuring new and key works, is at the Norval Foundation in Cape Town. Kemang Wa Lehulere’s 2017 Deutsche Bank’s ‘Artist of the Year’ exhibition travelled from Berlin to MAXXI in Rome and Kunsthaus Centre d’art Pasquart in Switzerland; he is included in the 2019 Sharjah Biennale. In 2018 Zanele Muholi presented her first institutional solo exhibitions in Switzerland and Argentina, respectively held at LUMA Westbau and Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires. A new painting by Portia Zvavahera was commissioned for the 10th Berlin Biennale and she has been featured in recent shows at the Garage Museum, Moscow and Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town. Hlobo was the inaugural recipient of the Villa Extraordinary Award for Sculpture and will openUnyukelo, an exhibition of new work at the SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, in January 2019.
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.