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One of KwaZulu-Natal's coveted Absa L'Atelier Art Awards finalists, Welcome Danca, of rural Gcilima area in Port Shepstone, has urged black people to invest in fine arts.
The annual competition, now in its 24th year, is the longest running art competition in Africa. Endorsed by the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (Sanava), the Absa L'Atelier has become an essential landmark in the lives of young artists aged 21 to 35.
Danca, 30, is one of five provincial finalists whose art was selected to compete with that of other finalists from the other eight provinces at a gala exhibition to be held in Johannesburg on July 23.
The award comes with a R110000 cash prize and a six-month sabbatical at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, France, courtesy of Absa Bank.
The second prize is awarded for the Most Promising Artist with an income of less than R60000 per annum, comprising a three-month sabbatical at the Cité, French language classes and nationwide touring exhibitions sponsored by the French embassy, the French Institute and the Alliance Française.
Both top prizes include air fares and free access to galleries and museums in Paris, giving young artists the opportunity to develop their talents and gain exposure to the international art community.
Four runner-ups will each pocket R25000 and the top 10 finalists will each receive a R2000 bonus prize.
Danca was introduced to art in 1997. "I remember that we had to struggle as we would work under a tree, using oil paint, which easily dried up.
"But I could not give up because art was in my veins. I remember that my first painting earned me R250, which was the biggest money ever for me," he said.
Danca said his love for art grew from strength to strength, and dedication paid off when he won a whopping cheque for R20000 in 2005.
"From there, I told myself that this is what I will do for the rest of my life," he said.
Danca urged black people to buy art, saying it's big investment. "Black people don't have interest in art. When you visit their homes, you will find them hanging pictures of themselves or religious pictures, and when you visit a white person's home, you find big pictures of art because they know that it is investment.
"You can buy a painting for R15000 today, and when you sell it in 10 years, the prize has doubled," he said. Danca's rare talent has been noticed by one hotel in Cape Town, which is buying his work.
Absa's regional manager Themba Mathe said they believed that they had a duty not only to create economical wealth but also to give up-and-coming artists a platform to showcase their talents.