Kenyan artist receives 2020 Henrike Grohs Art Award

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Kenya – Goethe-Institut has named Jackie Karuti as the recipient of the 2020 Henrike Grohs Art Award.

Karuti, who is from Nairobi, Kenya, will receive a cash prize of €20 000 and another €10 000, which will be directed towards the publication of her winning project. She is a uniquely talented artist who employs the use of new media through drawings, video, installations and performance art to explore themes of death, sexuality, identity and urban culture.

Her work has been presented at several exhibitions and residencies, both locally and internationally. She is a recipient of the 2017 Young Artist Award at the Cape Town Art Fair, and an alumna of the roaming pan-African art school, Àsìko, and the Gasworks residency programme in London.

Karuti was shortlisted for the award together with Akwasi Bediako Afrane (Ghana) and Sabelo Mlangeni (South Africa), who will each receive €5 000.

This year’s jury members were Angolan architect and independent curator Paula Nascimento, South African educator and curator Gabi Ngcobo, and Egyptian writer and curator Sarah Rifky. The art award received applications from Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Morocco.

“The award is not merely an acknowledgement of past achievements, but it is a way of celebrating the future of art practices,” a joint statement by the jury reads. “Our decision was guided by our desire to support practices that showed commitment to experimentation, which could benefit from the award.”

Ngcobo said: “Karuti’s work has a unique poetic dimension, and this award is to allow her to continue with her work and push her even more into even more complex inquiries.”

Goethe-Institut secretary-general Johannes Ebert said: “The Henrike Grohs Art Award is a very important prize for Goethe-Institut, as our mission is to support the cultural exchange worldwide and to foster the arts, especially in Africa. This year is special because we did not only give the prize to the three award winners, but we distributed the money that was meant for the awards ceremony between all the nominees.”

The award ceremony was scheduled to take place on 30 May in Dakar, Senegal, but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Henrike Grohs Art Award prize is awarded every two years to an artist or arts collective practising visual arts. It is designed to support emerging artists in their careers, responding to the challenges of practising on the continent.

The award was created by Goethe-Institut and the Grohs family to honour Henrike Grohs, the former head of Goethe-Institut Abidjan who was killed during a terrorist attack in Ivory Coast in 2016.

Grohs was committed to connecting and supporting artistic practice across the continent. She was instrumental in setting up the Music In Africa project in 2011 and went on to served as a board member of the Music In Africa Foundation for two years before taking on responsibilities as the director of Goethe-Institut in Abidjan.

Family representative Florian Grohs says the awards are a continuation of her legacy.

“We would like to congratulate the three winners of this year’s award. We initiated this award together with the Goethe-Institut to continue with Henrike’s work of connecting artists and cultures across the African continent. Henrike’s heart was beating for the broad variety of African art. We cherish the diversity of the work presented by all the artists, and we thank everyone for their contributions,” he said.

The first recipient of the award was Cameroonian intermedia artist Em’kal Eyongakpa in 2018.

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