The Norval Sovereign African Art Prize 2022 aims to empower African artists

Sovereign Art Foundation founder and chairman Howard Bilton talks to STIR about his love for art, and how it can make a difference.

by Shraddha NairPublished on : Feb 06, 2022

In the world of an artist, a generously-sized grant from a supportive and renowned institute is a career breakthrough. The process often comes with many steps, both tedious and time-consuming, but the reward is ultimately worth it. Norval Foundation comes together with Sovereign Art Foundation (SAF) to scout for their next artist to bestow their prestigious grant to. The Norval Sovereign African Art Prize 2022 amounts to 500,000 South African Rand, with 30 candidates of African origin making the shortlist. This grant looks to empower African artists with financial support as well as the opportunity to showcase their work at a solo exhibition at Norval Foundation in Cape Town. The finalists, narrowed down from 336 applications, come from 18 different countries in the African continent, with the most representation from Zimbabwe, Morocco, Angola, and Nigeria. We caught up with the founder and chairman of one of the largest privately-owned consultancies specialising in the provision of offshore trusts, Howard Bilton, to learn more about his journey, and the ongoing art prize competition.

An installation shot of Terre by M'barek Bouhchichi | Norval Sovereign African Art Prize | Sovereign Art Foundation | STIRworld
An installation shot of Terre by M'barek Bouhchichi Image: Courtesy of Sovereign Art Foundation

Bilton takes us back to the 90s, sharing how the seeds of his ardent interest in art were first sown. He says, “This all started about 30 years ago. Opposite our London offices in Bond Street, there was a very high-end art dealer, and in his very expensive-looking window was a single very expensive painting. To cut a long story short, I found out the name of the artist and later found myself in his studio in Bermondsey watching him put the finishing touches to one of his famous Crucifix paintings. He was Craigie Aitchison. After hard negotiation, I bought the picture for £8,000 which was around £8000 more than I had at the time. I arranged to pay over six months and borrowed the money. I still have the painting hanging in my London flat and I still absolutely love it. It triggered a lifelong kleptomania for art and is the reason why I am always broke and the walls of my house and all my offices are full of art. In 2003, I decided to establish The Sovereign Art Foundation as a way to give back to the artistic community. Our growing portfolio of professional art prizes aims to recognise and promote extraordinary talent whilst raising funds to support programmes that help disadvantaged children through the power of expressive arts.”

Metallic Magnificence, 2020, by Frances Goodman | Norval Sovereign African Art Prize | Sovereign Art Foundation | STIRworld
Metallic Magnificence, 2020, by Frances Goodman Image: Courtesy of Sovereign Art Foundation

For the Norval Sovereign African Art Prize 2022, the 30 finalists have been shortlisted by a panel of five world-class art specialists, namely: writer, curator, and museum director David Elliott; Exhibitions Director, Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden, Janine Gaëlle Dieudji; Curator, Norval Foundation, Khanya Mashabela; exhibition curator and contemporary art consultant, Marie-Ann Yemsi; and Chief Executive and Director, Design Museum, London, Tim Marlow. In reference to the judges’ work at the competition, Bilton says, “Ultimately, I believe they are looking for originality and skill in execution.”

Launched in 2021, The Norval Sovereign African Art Prize is a tool, not only for empowering artists, but also for sharing the diverse narratives which emerge from the African continent. Contemporary art serves as an opportunity to drive society, for commentary to spark thought and action. The finalists for this grant show us that the African diaspora cannot be contained into a single story, form or medium. The entries include metal installation, photography, abstract and figurative painting.

Landscape 01 by Abraham Onoriode Oghobase | Norval Sovereign African Art Prize | Sovereign Art Foundation | STIRworld
Landscape 01 by Abraham Onoriode Oghobase Image: Courtesy of Sovereign Art Foundation

SAF has designed their grant programmes to also serve social causes. Bilton shares, “In our case, art serves the public because we sell the work of the finalists through auction, with half of the proceeds going to the artist and the other half being used to fund Norval Foundation’s Education Programme, which uses art to support children’s education and holistic development. Art builds confidence and greatly assists the learning process because unlike with maths or other subjects, there is no wrong or right in art. It is your picture and it is right for you. Over the years, The Sovereign Art Foundation has supported thousands of disadvantaged children around the world with programmes that use the principles of art therapy, now considered a mainstream science. We are very proud of the work the foundation does and we look to continue that in Africa where there is a clear and obvious need.”

Esgotada by Delio Jasse | Norval Sovereign African Art Prize | Sovereign Art Foundation | STIRworld
Esgotada by Delio Jasse Image: Courtesy of Sovereign Art Foundation

The auction will be administered by Sotheby’s, and is planned to run from 15th to 22nd February, 2022. The winner of this prize, as well as the Public Vote Prize, will be announced on 16th February 2022.

A portrait of Howard Bilton, chairman and founder of SAF | Norval Sovereign African Art Prize | Sovereign Art Foundation | STIRworld
A portrait of Howard Bilton, chairman and founder of SAF Image: Courtesy of Sovereign Art Foundation

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