The competition for the James Barnor Award has finally announced its lucky winner. For this second edition, the Mozambican artist and activist Mário Macilau has been awarded the 2023 James Barnor Prize. While last year’s event, designed to promote African photographic culture internationally, rewarded Beninese photographer Sènami Donoumassou, this year the Mozambican artist has won over the juries with his striking photographic art.
Through the James Barnor Award, which is intended to give visibility to and reward an established African photographer, the foundation aims to “support African culture, education, training and the promotion of new generations of artists“.
Nominated by Gabonese artist Owanto and Christine Barthe, head of the photography collection at the Quai Branly Museum, Mário Macilau was announced as the winner of the James Barnor Award 2023 at the FOMU in Antwerp, on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition “James Barnor: Studio of Life“, which runs until 10 March 2024, and won a grant of €10,000.
Born in 1984 in Maputo, Mozambique, Mário Macilau lives and works between his hometown of Lisbon and Cape Town. He turned to photography in 2003, when his first shots came from his mother’s mobile phone. He became a professional photographer in 2007, and his artistic approach addresses political, environmental and identity issues, as well as the major problems facing the African continent and the rest of the world. The uniqueness of his artistic practice lies in the aesthetic he brings to bear on these societal issues.
Mário Macilau is a committed artist whose photography is sensitive and human. He manages to imbue his subjects with a disconcerting sensitivity that naturally binds them together; a receptiveness that is strengthened by his own experience of working to help his family, despite his young age. Presenting most of his images against black-and-white backgrounds, the artist-photographer offers visually striking captures that stand on their own as testimony to the stories he wishes to share.
Through his photography, the winner hopes to develop a social conscience by revealing the sombre reality of everyday life in his country and elsewhere, while emphasising the impact of the environment on individuals. This approach marks him out as an activist artist, and he continues to explore the world and capture scenes filled with humanity and fraternity in the hope of a better future for all.
The members of the jury who helped nominate Mário Macilau were James Barnor; Damarice Amao, art historian; Lizzie Carey-Thomas, head of programming at the Serpentine Gallery in London; Sénami Donoumassou, winner of the prize in 2022; Bimpe Nkontchou, collector, and Pamela Peters, curator at the Antwerp Museum of Photography (FOMU).
The photographer has already won several awards and has exhibited his work around the world, including at the Dakar Biennale in 2022. He is represented by the Ed Cross Fine Art gallery in London and published his first book, Growing in Darkness, in 2015.