Every year since 1999 the Baloise Group has honoured two young artists with its Baloise Art Prize. The award, which includes prize money of 30,000 Swiss francs for each winner, is presented at the Art Basel fair by a panel of international judges. In addition to this, Baloise purchases the artworks from the winners and donates them to two major European art museums. In 2013, the Baloise Art Prize went to German artist Jenni Tischer (born 1979) and South Africa’s Kemang Wa Lehulere (born 1984). The judges’ report was glowing in its praise of Wa Lehulere, who is now one of the leading representatives of South Africa’s young generation of artists: “In his work Kemang Wa Lehulere explores questions of collective memory and seeks to uncover the traces of South African history. To this end, he not only uses the devices of revealing and writing down but also of wiping out text and pictures. His wall-sized drawings, installations, performances and photographs establish a link between the trauma and myths of South Africa’s past and contemporary social issues. Lehulere’s works may be read as an archive, which demonstrates the process of forgetting and, like a collage, simultaneously opens avenues to new narratives that encourage multiple interpretations.”
In a conversation with the author of the report, Wa Lehulere describes his varied art techniques as follows: «Bringing text into my work was a way of channeling different thought processes into one channel of energy. I really began developing an interest in writing, and also in literary fiction and short stories. I then began to think about how I could incorporate these into various mediums I was working with, for example I started writing performance scripts, and also used writing to document performance without capturing an image, by rewriting the experience. (…) Usually, the figures I develop are devoid of any gender or race, so they become these collective bodies. I try to go against markers of identity, but I am also very cautious to talk about these things, because I don’t want to be trapped in identity politics.»
The works on paper displayed in the Baloise Art Forum are heavily influenced by Wa Lehulere’s experiences in performance art. His ink drawings are full of suspense and movement, but also function as a storyboard, almost like a diary.