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The judging panel for our second FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices awards agreed on two things. First, while this year’s winners and runners-up were, as 2015’s, outstanding, the overall standard of entries was higher. Second, it was easier for the judges to agree on the best entries this year. In their second year, the awards are better known and even more talented artists entered them. Also the judges, several of whom also served last year, had a better idea of what they were looking for.
As the Emerging Voices awards become better established, it is worth reiterating their purpose for those new to them. Justin Leverenz, director of emerging market equities at OppenheimerFunds, approached the Financial Times with the idea for a set of awards for art from emerging markets in 2014. To the FT, the proposal was immediately attractive. We have spent years reporting on and writing about the world’s rising economies, looking at their businesses, financial systems and governments.
These awards offered a way to probe more deeply — to learn more about these countries through their art, film and literature. We saw the awards as not only a way of recognising talented artists, film-makers and novelists, but also as a means of bringing their work to the attention of our readers. This year we asked for art entries from Africa and the Middle East, films from Latin America and novels from the Asia-Pacific region. We received 797 entries.
A question often asked about the Emerging Voices awards is: which is emerging, the artist or the country? The answer is the country. Those eligible to enter the awards are citizens of nations named by the World Bank as having a gross national income per capita of $12,746 or less. The judges’ instructions were straightforward: choose the best works submitted in each category. Some of our winners and runners-up are exciting up-and-coming talents, but others are already well known in their own countries and regions.
The judges for the film category this year — who included Yuhang Ho, the Malaysian director who won last year’s film award — were impressed with Tania Cattebeke from Paraguay and her film Olia, the story of a boy looked after by a mute neighbour while his mother is at work. They described it as “haunting, layered, very effective”. They were captivated by Camilo Restrepo’s Impressions of a War, which they called a “painterly, personal” view of Colombia’s 50-year armed conflict. But their winner was Clarissa Campolina of Brazil with Solon, an enigmatic film that imagines an alternative beginning of the world, that the judges commended as “enchanting”, “poetic” and displaying “great muscularity”.
Of the art entries, the judges were impressed by Noor Abuarafeh’s deeply researched mixed-media exploration of Palestinian history. They were enthusiastic about Kenyan-German artist Syowia Kyambi’s personal installation-performance entry. But their winner was Gareth Nyandoro of Zimbabwe, with his strikingly coloured paper-mounted-on-canvas works.
The fiction entries demonstrated the virtues of range across a vast region, with the 10 longlisted works coming from Bangladesh, Indonesia, China, India and Turkey. Four of the 10 had originally been written in English; the remainder had been published over the past year in English translations.
The judges chose two Chinese books as runners-up: The Seventh Day by Yu Hua and The Four Books by Yan Lianke. They are both remarkable works, highly recommended to anyone who wants an insight into contemporary China and its modern history. The narrator of The Seventh Day is a young man who has died and who, being too poor to afford a burial plot, wanders the country with similarly afflicted souls. The Four Books, set in a labour and re-education camp at the time of China’s Great Leap Forward, is a lacerating account of the lies, cruelties and absurdities of life in captivity.
The winning novel was the distinguished Indonesian author Eka Kurniawan’s Man Tiger. The story of a young man who has a supernatural female white tiger within himself was called “Marquez-like” by the judges, who had particular praise for the translator, Labodalih Sembiring.
After their first two years, the awards have survived their infancy in good health. We look forward to watching them grow.
In addition to being director of emerging market equities at OppenheimerFunds, Justin Leverenz is portfolio manager of the Oppenheimer Developing Markets Fund and Oppenheimer Emerging Markets Innovators Fund. Leverenz lived and worked in China for more than a decade, and his interest in emerging markets extends well beyond investing. That interest led him to establish the Emerging Voices awards to recognise exceptional talent in literature, film and visual in emerging market countries.
Michael Skapinker is an associate editor at the Financial Times and writes a weekly column on business and society. He joined the FT in 1986 and has held many positions, including Weekend editor, management editor and Special Reports editor. He was born in South Africa and educated at Witwatersrand and Cambridge universities. He was awarded the Work Foundation Members’ Award for his contribution to the understanding of working life in 2003, was named WorkWorld Media Awards columnist of the year in 2008, Editorial Intelligence Awards top business commentator in 2012 and top business ethics commentator in 2015.
Throughout El Anatsui’s 40-year career as a sculptor and teacher — he was professor of sculpture and departmental head at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka — he has addressed numerous social, political and historical concerns, using a diverse range of media and processes. His sculptures have been collected by the British Museum, London, the Centre Pompidou, Paris, the de Young Museum, San Francisco, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and many others. In 2014, he was made an honorary Royal Academician and elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Iwona Blazwick has been director of the Whitechapel Gallery in London since 2001, leading its expansion in 2009. Previously she worked at London’s Tate Modern gallery, co-curating the inaugural collection displays and Turbine Hall projects. Blazwick has served on juries for numerous art awards, including the Turner Prize in the UK and Venice Biennale Golden Lion event. She has worked as an independent curator in Europe and Japan and has written on contemporary artists from around the world. She is chair of the Mayor of London’s cultural strategy group and was awarded an OBE for services to art in 2007.
Antonia Carver was director of Art Dubai from 2010 to 2016. This August she became the first director of Art Jameel, an arts foundation that supports artists and arts infrastructure throughout the wider Middle East, south Asia and beyond. Based in the United Arab Emirates since 2001, Carver has written on Middle Eastern art and film, and edited books and journals. In 2004, she joined travel magazine Bidoun as an editor and later became the director of the Middle Eastern arts organisation’s projects division.
Jan Dalley has been arts editor of the Financial Times since 2004. She joined the FT in 1999 as literary editor. Previously, she was literary editor of the Independent on Sunday for eight years, and before becoming a journalist she worked in publishing. She has judged literary prizes including the Booker Prize, the Whitbread Book awards, the Hawthornden Prize and the Encore Prize. She wrote the book Black Hole: Money, Myth and Empire, a study of the Black Hole of Calcutta, published by Penguin in 2006.
Koyo Kouoh is the founding artistic director of RAW Material Company, a centre for the arts in Dakar, Senegal, and the curator of the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London and New York. Besides maintaining a theoretical, exhibition and residency programme at RAW Material Company, she works as a curator, adviser and judge internationally. In collaboration with curator and writer Rasha Salti, Kouoh is currently working on “Saving Bruce Lee: African and Arab Cinema in the Era of Soviet Cultural Diplomacy”, a research, exhibition and publication project. She lives and works in Dakar and occasionally in Basel, Switzerland.
Novelist and film-maker Xiaolu Guo’s career spans both China and Britain. Her novels have been translated into more than 26 languages, including A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers (shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction) and I Am China (longlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction). In 2013, she was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. She has also directed several award-winning films, including She, a Chinese, UFO in Her Eyes and Once Upon a Time Proletarian. Guo is an honorary professor at the University of Nottingham in the UK. She lives in London and Berlin.
Sunil Khilnani is director of the India Institute at King’s College London. He was Starr Foundation Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advance International Studies in Washington DC, and director of south Asia studies. He was also professor of politics at Seikei University, Tokyo, and a fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge. His publications include Arguing Revolution: The Intellectual Left in Postwar France (1993), The Idea of India (7th edn, 2016) and Incarnations: India in 50 Lives (2016), which accompanied his series on BBC Radio 4.
Lorien Kite has been books editor of the Financial Times since 2011, overseeing the FT Weekend Review section, reporting on developments in the literary world and interviewing writers. He served on the jury panel for the 2014 Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction. Kite joined the FT in 2000 after a period working in publishing. He has also worked on the FT’s comment and analysis pages.
Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing and moved to the US in 1996. Her debut collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won several awards, including the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Guardian First Book Award. Her books have been translated into more than 20 languages, and two stories from her debut collection were made into feature films. She is a contributing editor to the Brooklyn-based literary magazine A Public Space and has served on literary jury panels, including the Man Booker International Prize and the National Book Award. She lives in Oakland, California.
Elif Shafak writes in both English and Turkish and has published 14 books, nine of which are novels, including The Bastard of Istanbul, The Forty Rules of Love and her genre-crossing memoir Black Milk. Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages. Shafak blends western and eastern traditions of storytelling, bringing out the voices of women, minorities, subcultures and immigrants. Her works draws on different cultures and cities, and reflects a strong interest in history, philosophy, culture, mysticism, intercultural dialogue and gender equality. Shafak is a political scientist and a commentator. She lives in London with her two children.
Nigel Andrews has been the Financial Times’ film critic since 1973. He has been a regular broadcaster for BBC radio and is author of the books True Myths: The Life and Times of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jaws. Andrews has twice been named Critic of the Year in British Press awards. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Yuhang Ho won an FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Award in 2015 for his short film Trespassed. He was born in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia. He studied engineering at Iowa State University in the US and worked in television production on his return to Malaysia. His debut feature Min in 2003 won the Special Jury Prize at the Festival des 3 Continents in Nantes. His latest film is Mrs K.
Peruvian director, producer and screenwriter Claudia Llosa studied communications sciences at the University of Lima, Peru, and scriptwriting at the TAI in Madrid, before working in advertising and television. Her first feature film Madeinusa was released in 2006. Three years later The Milk of Sorrow won the Berlin film festival Golden Bear and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. At Berlin in 2012, her short film Loxoro won a Teddy Award.
Mira Nair’s debut feature Salaam Bombay! received more than 25 international awards including an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 1988 and the Caméra d’Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Most recently, she directed Disney’s Queen of Katwe. In 2008, she used the profits from Salaam Bombay! to create the Salaam Baalak Trust, which works with street children in India.
Director Pablo Trapero was born in Argentina in 1971. His first feature, Mundo Grúa (1999), won the Critics Prize at the Venice film festival. In 2008, Leonera was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and returned to Cannes with Carancho (2010) and White Elephant (2012). Trapero has sat on juries at Venice, San Sebastián and Locarno, among others. His latest film, The Clan (2015), won the Silver Lion for best director at Venice.