The 25th BASA Awards, in partnership with Hollard, has chosen Mariapaola McGurk as the artist commissioned to create the art works given to this year’s winners as their awards.
Mariapaola has been working within the creative economy for more than 20 years and is a three-time BASA Award winner herself. She’s now a full-time visual artist, living just outside of Johannesburg. She works primarily in the medium of paper-cutting, a form she says is, “counter to my personality, forcing me to slow down and become very precise and focused. There is something quite meditative about working in this medium.”
This year’s BASA Awards acknowledge arts and business collaborations that took place during 2021 in an environment that was particularly uncertain and difficult to navigate. In many instances, funding dried up or was put on hold.
Mariapaola reflects on this moment in a series of works, exclusive to the BASA Awards, called A Mother’s Window: Finding the Light. She says the works come from a moment of personal tragedy experienced by a good friend but also from a global place of darkness. Each of the uniquely created paper-cuttings depicts a play between dark space and external light, reminding us of the importance of looking out, into the light, for hope and growth. Read the full artist’s statement below.
Says BASA CEO Ashraf Johaardien: “Mariapaola has captured something very powerful in the depiction of simple moments. Our theme this year is Lights Up, which we chose because we believe that the winners of this year’s Awards are testament to shining through the darkest of times. The process behind the creation of the Award artworks is symbolic of the cutting away of darkness to make way for the light to come through. The courage and creativity of all our BASA Awards winners, and finalists, light the way for us all.”
“Business-arts partnerships have been tested like never before over the last couple of years. It is remarkable that so many partnerships not only survived these dark times, but also succeeded in shining a light on the better futures that await us all,” adds Heidi Brauer, Hollard’s chief marketing officer. “Maria’s works will bring a beautiful poignancy to this year’s awards and provide wonderful recognition to all these light-bearers.”
The winners of the BASA Awards will be announced and celebrated on the evening of 29 August at an event in Johannesburg that will be live-streamed here.
Artist’s Statement – Mariapaola McGurk
During Covid-19, a fellow South African artist and friend went through one of the most haunting experiences I could imagine. His mother was murdered by his stepfather. In 2021, on Instagram, he posted an image of his mother’s window. He had gone home to collect things with his sister. The image looked out into the light from a visually dark space. This image, and Bolelang’s story, has inspired a series of artworks called ‘A Mother’s Window.’ This is a series that reflects on a global place of darkness and the importance of looking out, into light, for hope and growth.
This series speaks to the power of memory, roots, place, and nurture that can help us find the light in times of trouble. Through our mother’s window is a reminder that finding the light often means going back to our roots and to what we have already learnt and with that, finding the strength to ‘go outside’ to where the light is. We all have stories and people of strength that have offered us guidance and ‘mothered’ us so that we can step into the unknown, take chances and light up our world.
This body of work is a reminder of that, and a reminder that without the darkness we cannot experience the light. Papercutting is a process of extraction: starting with one piece of black paper the image is revealed through cutting away. Light is what allows the image to be seen. In the same way we all need to cut away elements of our lives that are no longer needed and for the light to shine through, while remembering and growing from the seed within. In January I asked people on social media to share with me photographs of their ‘Mother’s Window’ – windows in the homes of the people who had given them strength over the years and shared wisdom. I collected a variety of photographs of windows that will be used in this series.
About Mariapaola McGurk
Mariapaola McGurk has been working within the creative economy for more than 20 years. As a 21-year-old visual arts graduate her goal was to be an artist. For the past two decades, she has explored a variety of roles, but the thread has always been visual arts. Those roles include curator, entrepreneur, client liaison for commercial arts, lecturer, and facilitator. She believes this has contributed to her growth and development within the sector:
Most creatives learn the art of wearing different hats – it is a way to survive in a challenging industry, but it is also a way to grow experiences, empathy, and a better understanding of the world we live in. As a visual artist, you are tasked with visually portraying the world around you and your perception of it – often quite an isolating and removed role. By ‘plugging’ into different roles an artist has the opportunity of connecting, learning and growing in ways that are very difficult if you are in a studio alone (which is the nature of my art making).
One of the hats Mariapaola wore for seven years was as the founding and management of The Coloured Cube, a social creative company that won BASA Awards three times for its innovative partnerships with corporate clients.
The Coloured Cube was founded in 2014. I was determined to generate income and not be funding dependent, while having a positive impact on other creatives and the community. We succeeded in this with an 80/20 ratio throughout the 7 years of operation – 80% income generated and 20% funding based. The company started after I attended a business training course with BASA and being mentored by Eugenie Drakes who has continued to be a mentor and friend to me. We closed in 2020 due to the impact of COVID 19 but the company achieved a great deal, and I am proud of the work we did.
Mariapaola is passionate about the role of creative entrepreneurship in growing the creative economy of South Africa and works on a range of projects to develop this. She is a first generation South African born with Irish/Italian heritage. Her father immigrated to South Africa from a small village in Abruzzi, Italy, at 17 years old; and her mother from Dublin, Ireland, at five years old. Mariapaola specialises in paper cutting artwork – she had her first solo exhibition in a commercial gallery in March 2022 at Candice Berman Gallery.
She holds an Honours cum laude in visual arts from the University of Johannesburg and an Executive MBA from Henley Business School.