Amina Agueznay claims grand prize in the 2024 Norval Sovereign African Art Prize

The Moroccan artist’s work, Portal #1, is tactile and sensory, inspired by indigenous design techniques and traditions.

By Debbie Hathway
Amina Ageuznay portrait by Hazem Treasure

Amina Ageuznay is the Grand Prize Winner of the third annual Norval Sovereign African Art Prize (NSAAP) 2024, winning US$35 000 for her work, Portal #1. Part of her prize is the opportunity for a solo exhibition at Norval Foundation and an artist residency in London supported by Outset Contemporary Art Fund.

This announcement heralded the start of the Investec Cape Town Art Fair 2024 VIP programming, taking place at the Norval Foundation in Tokai.

The winning artwork, Portal #1

“Portal #1” offers a tactile and sensory experience crafted from natural materials such as palm husk, untreated wool, and palm leaves. Inspired by workshops for the women of Tissekmoudine, a “ksar” or settlement in southern Morocco, the artwork stems from their sketches of the distinctive doors that define its identity. Agueznay’s reinterpretation integrates local materials like talefdamt (palm husk) and ifraoune (palm leaves). Agueznay, represented by Loft Art Gallery in Marrakech, is an architect who explores Morocco’s urban and rural areas, documenting indigenous design techniques to inform her contemporary interventions, emphasising collaboration in textile work.

Accepting her award, she says she was “so honoured”, especially as it comes from a part of the continent other than where she is from. “The recognition means the world to me and a win such as this reassures me that the way I have been pursuing my work and how I want to work in the future is the correct way,” she says.

NSAAP Winner Announcement Screen

The Moroccan artist’s winning piece triumphed over 26 shortlisted finalists drawn from 374 entries, adjudicated by Ashraf Jamal – writer and researcher, ArtBankSA and University of Johannesburg; Heba El Kayal – chief curatorial consultant, Norval Foundation; Marie-Ann Yemsi – independent exhibition curator and contemporary art consultant; Ngaire Blankenberg – founder and director, Institute for Creative Repair; and Sean O’Toole – writer, editor, and curator.

“A great final decision has been made. After hours of deep reflection, the jury stayed true to the greater goal of the prize – the choice of an artist with an enduring vision of the lives and triumphs of women of the African desert,” says Jamal.

The judges were “fairly unanimous” in voting for the top five but said it was “very hard to find one winner”. As a result, they announced two “honourable mentions” for winning work from exceptional candidates – Youssra Raouchi (Morocco) for “Moi, c’est l’autre” and Sethembile Msezane (South Africa) for “Notations on Divinity”.

“Notations on Divinity” by Sethembile Msezane (South Africa)

Sotheby’s auctioned the remaining finalists’ works online, with funds raised benefiting both artists and the Norval Foundation’s art education mission.

“The standard of this year’s entries has been phenomenal, and the auction provides collectors a chance to acquire work by some of the most exciting artists of today while directly supporting the artists themselves and the wonderful ongoing educational work provided by the Norval Foundation. Sotheby’s is delighted to support such a great cause and remains dedicated to showcasing the very best talent from across the African continent,” says Sotheby’s senior director of Modern and Contemporary African Art, Hannah O’Leary.

Sovereign Art Foundation chairman Howard Bilton shares more background. “The Sovereign Art Foundation has been running art prizes around the world for many years – we’re now in our 20th Asian year. This is the third year of the African Art Prize, started with Louis Norval. It was one of the shortest conversations I’ve had when I suggested to him that we did it.”

“Moi, c’est l’autre” by Youssra Raouchi (Morocco)

In a 2023 interview, Bilton acknowledged the value of “somebody with a bit of vision, and luckily Louis Norval has that, so it was done in an instant. Like a lot of good things – they happen very quickly. I think the first two years have been very successful and we’ve built something sustainable,” he says.

The motivation was to assist artists, but more importantly, it was to raise funds for educational programmes (offering art as therapy and rehabilitation to help disadvantaged children). “As far as I’m concerned, the most important aspect of this is philanthropic. There are opportunities to help – by donating money or buying this art,” he says.

The Public Vote Prize winner, to be announced in May 2024, will receive a US$2 000 cash prize based on the highest number of public votes received during the exhibition period. Voting occurs online and in person, with shortlisted works on display at the Norval Foundation. The Norval Sovereign African Art Prize 2024, curated by Seth Kriger, is on view until May 2024.

Previous winners of NSAAP include Famakan Magassa (b.1997, Mali) and Bonolo Kavula (b.1992, South Africa), Alioune Daigne (b. 1985, Senegal) and Rene Tavares (b. 1983 São Tomé and Principe).

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