Listen to this article
Why a set of awards for artists, film-makers and writers from emerging market countries? When Justin Leverenz, director of emerging market equities at OppenheimerFunds, approached the Financial Times with the idea, we were intrigued.
The FT has long been following the rise to prominence of those countries challenging the financial, strategic and political dominance of the hitherto wealthy world. What did their artists have to teach us? This would be a chance to find out.
It would be disingenuous not to point out that there were financial motivations too. OppenheimerFunds is active in these markets. There would be substantial prizes for the winning artists, but there would be advertising revenues for the FT too. (As always, FT editors and writers have produced this magazine without any commercial interference.)
There were some immediate problems. Would the awards be too big to handle? And what exactly did we mean by “emerging markets” (a term the FT itself has called “imprecise”)?
To manage the possible logistical difficulties, we decided in this first year to divide the regions up, looking at art from Latin America and the Caribbean, short films from Asia-Pacific, and novels, published in or translated into English, from Africa and the Middle East. We received 872 entries.
As to how to define emerging market countries, we decided on those that had a gross national income per capita of $12,746 or less, according to the World Bank’s Atlas method of calculation.
There was some criticism that this was an arbitrary way to select artists to take part and that asking for submissions just from these countries was patronising. But many more people, including judges like Mira Nair, director of films such as Salaam Bombay! and Mississippi Masala, felt passionately that the awards would give recognition to artists who deserved it. What is more, the awards would bring their work to a far bigger audience than they might otherwise have reached.
What is said in the judging room stays in the judging room. So there will be no revealing here of who said what. But when the rest of the judges in the fiction award watched Elif Shafak and Alaa Al Aswany, celebrated novelists from Turkey and Egypt respectively, debating the nature of literature, we knew we were privileged to be present.
In the art category, the judges were most impressed by Lima-based Cristina Planas, whose work took in environmental, political and religious themes. The two runners-up, Fabiola Menchelli Tejeda, who lives in Mexico City, and Pablo Mora Ortega, born in Medellín, Colombia, submitted strikingly different works. Menchelli Tejeda’s photographs showed the interaction of light and shadow. Ortega’s installation, sculptures and video showed what he called “the pain and injustice caused by the dysfunctionality and negligence of the Colombian justice system”.
The judges in the film category were entranced by the longlist of 10 short films — so much so that they insisted on having a shortlist of four rather than the three they had been asked for. The winning film was Trespassed, by the Malaysian director Yuhang Ho, about a young girl who, to her mother’s distress, appears possessed when her father goes missing. The runners-up were Kush, by Indian director, Shubhashish Bhutiani, about a teacher protecting a Sikh pupil who was returning from a trip after the assassination of Indira Gandhi; Endless, Nameless, directed by Mont Tesprateep, about the lives of Thai conscripts and, more widely, the class divisions within Thai society; and The Sea, by the Chinese director Han Ting, about an art teacher who goes to work at a remote school at the end of his life.
While each of the four films comes from a different country, the judges asked us to make clear this was not deliberate — these were the best four entries.
The fiction judges were equally excited by the quality of the work on the longlist. After extensive debate, Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen, a story of the trials and adventures of four Nigerian brothers, emerged as the winner. The runners-up were Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s Dust — set amid Kenya’s 2007 electoral turmoil — Scholastique Mukasonga’s Our Lady of the Nile, which takes place in a Rwandan girls’ boarding school on the eve of the country’s genocide.
We have learnt a huge amount from the staging of these initial awards. There are some things we plan to do differently next year — for example, we will ask all the artists to provide statements giving us greater context for their work. We will also re-examine how we divide up the art, film and fiction categories.
But in almost every way, these awards fulfilled all the hopes we had for them when we started. We hope FT readers will enjoy them as much as the judges did.
Alaa Al Aswany
Alaa Al Aswany trained as a dentist and still runs his own dental practice in Cairo.
His debut novel The Yacoubian Building (2002) — named after his Cairo workplace of many years — was longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary award in 2006 and has sold more than 1m copies worldwide. It was the bestselling novel in the Arab world for more than five years.
Al Aswany’s Chicago was named by Newsday, the US newspaper, as the best translated novel of 2006. His work has been translated into more than 30 languages and published in more than 100 countries. He speaks Arabic, English, French and Spanish.
Among his international awards are the Bashrahil award for the Arabic novel, the Kafavis award from Greece and Italy’s Grinzane Cavour prize.
Author and film critic
Stephen Amidon, who is based in the US, has written seven novels, including Human Capital (2004), which was adapted into an award-winning film by Paolo Virzì.
For 12 years from 1987 Amidon lived in London, where he wrote for many publications and served as a film critic on the Financial Times. He was a member of the jury at the 2013 Torino Film Festival and is working on the screenplay for Virzì’s next film.
On the films he watched while judging Emerging Voices, he says: “Young film-makers tend to be homogenous, to try to be like other film-makers and to follow a formula. But in each of these films, I heard a distinct creative voice. That most of these film-makers are very young and in their early careers, I find quite remarkable.”
Film critic, Financial Times
Nigel Andrews appears regularly on BBC radio and has twice been named Critic of the Year at the British Press awards. He is a graduate of Cambridge University and a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Of the entrants to the Emerging Voices prize, he says: “You need not just a creative spirit to be a film-maker, but also an entrepreneurial spirit. You need to know how to get your films into theatres — and that remains a challenge.
“So the more competitions, showcases and prizes, festivals and endowments we have, the better for young film-makers.”
Kwame Anthony Appiah
Professor of philosophy and law, New York University
Kwame Anthony Appiah grew up in Ghana and was educated at Cambridge University, where he gained undergraduate and doctoral degrees in philosophy.
He has written widely on philosophy of mind and language, ethics and political philosophy and the philosophy of art, of culture and of the social sciences. Another interest is literary studies, in particular African and African-American literature.
From 2008 to 2011, Appiah was chairman of the board of the American Philosophical Association.
Between 2009 and 2012, he was president of the PEN American Center, and in 2016 he will be president of the Modern Language Association.
Director, Whitechapel Gallery
Iwona Blazwick took over as director of east London’s Whitechapel Gallery in 2001 after four years working at the city’s Tate Modern gallery, where she co-curated the inaugural collection displays and Turbine Hall projects.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Blazwick was director of exhibitions at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, and has worked as an independent curator in Europe and Japan. Her services to art were recognised with an OBE in 2007.
Blazwick has served on juries for numerous arts awards, including the Turner Prize in the UK and the Venice Biennale Golden Lion award.
On judging Emerging Voices, she says: “Latin American artists are globally resonant, they reflect global challenges, but they are still very much characteristic of a particular regional history and language.”
Arts editor, Financial Times
Jan Dalley joined the Financial Times 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.
Among the literary prizes that Dalley has judged are the Man Booker prize, the Whitbread Book awards, the Hawthornden prize and the Encore prize.
Of the entrants to Emerging Voices, she says: “They have a particular mixture of interests in the contemporary world and a wider vision of the natural world.
“It is always dangerous to guess the intentions of an artist, but I think there is a consciousness of geopolitics, the state of the planet, consumerism, pollution — the evil effects of civilisation.”
Teresita Fernández, who grew up in Miami, is best known for her prominent public sculptures and her unconventional use of materials.
Her experimental, large-scale works are often inspired by landscape and natural phenomena as well as history and culture.
She is a 2005 MacArthur Foundation fellow and the recipient of awards including a Guggenheim fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts artist’s grant and a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial award.
Appointed by US president Barack Obama, Fernández served between 2011 and 2014 on the US Commission of Fine Arts, a panel that advises the president, Congress and government agencies on design and aesthetics.
Fernández’s works are included in prominent collections and have been exhibited nationally and internationally.
Books editor, Financial Times
Lorien Kite has been in his role at the Financial Times since 2011, overseeing the FT Weekend review section, reporting on developments in the literary world and interviewing writers such as Kazuo Ishiguro, Richard Flanagan and Hilary Mantel. He also served on the jury panel of the 2014 Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction.
Kite joined the FT in 2000 after a period in publishing and has also worked as an editor on the FT’s comment and analysis pages.
Of the entrants to Emerging Voices, he says: “The range of subject matter and styles on display were striking. I was left with a sense of authors grappling with history, embedded in particular experience and yet universal in their concerns.”
Director of emerging markets equities, OppenheimerFunds
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 arts in emerging market countries.
On judging the awards, Leverenz says: “I set out to give artists the opportunity for a global platform. What struck me were the diversity of the entries and the extraordinary talent of the judges.”
At 17, Samira Makhmalbaf directed her first feature film, The Apple (1998), which was invited to be shown at more than 100 film festivals over two years and screened in more than 30 countries.
In 1999, Makhmalbaf made her second film, Blackboards, in Kurdistan. It was selected to compete in the official section of the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, at which it received the Jury Prize. Blackboards also received international awards, including the Federico Fellini Honour award and the François Truffaut award.
A third feature by Makhmalbaf, At Five in the Afternoon (2003), was selected for the competition section of the Cannes Film Festival in 2003, resulting in another Jury Prize for the director.
Nadifa Mohamed was born in Hargeisa in Somaliland in 1981, moving temporarily to London with her family in 1986. This move became permanent after civil war broke out in Somalia in the early 1990s. She studied history and politics at the University of Oxford.
Mohamed’s first novel, Black Mamba Boy (2010), was longlisted for the Orange prize, shortlisted for the Guardian First Book award, the John Llewellyn Rhys prize, the Dylan Thomas prize and the PEN Open Book award, and won the Betty Trask prize.
Her second novel, The Orchard of Lost Souls, was published in 2013.
In 2013, Mohamed was selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. She lives in London and is working on her third novel.
Mira Nair’s debut feature, Salaam Bombay!, received more than 25 international awards as well as an Academy Award nomination for best foreign language film in 1989 and the Caméra d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1988.
Her second film, Mississippi Masala (1991), won several awards at the Venice Film Festival.
She is currently directing Disney’s Queen of Katwe, based on the true story of the Ugandan chess prodigy, Phiona Mutesi.
Nair set up the annual film-makers’ laboratories, Maisha, in Uganda, to train young directors.
In 1988, she used the profits from Salaam Bombay! to create Salaam Baalak Trust, which works with street children in India.
Rithy Panh, who is from Cambodia, graduated from the Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies in Paris, and since 1989 has worked on more than 20 films, both documentaries and fiction.
The Missing Picture won the Un Certain Regard selection at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013 and was nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film in 2014. He has produced films such as Red Wedding by Guillaume Suon and Lida Chan, which won IDFA Best Mid-Length Documentary in 2012.
In 2008, Panh founded the Cambodia Film Commission in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. In 2010, he set up the Cambodia International Film Festival.
Elif Shafak, who writes in both English and Turkish, has published 13 books, nine of which are novels, including The Bastard of Istanbul, The Forty Rules of Love and a non-fiction memoir, Black Milk.
Her books have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her latest novel, The Architect’s Apprentice, was published in the UK by Penguin in 2014.
Shafak blends western and eastern traditions of storytelling, bringing out the voices of women, minorities, subcultures and immigrants.
Her works draw on different cultures and cities, and reflect a strong interest in history, philosophy, mysticism, intercultural dialogue and gender.
Shafak is a political scientist and commentator, and sat on the judging panel for the 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
The Chilean Jorge Tacla studied at the Escuela de Bellas Artes, Universidad de Chile, in Santiago before moving to New York in 1981.
Tacla’s paintings have been included in recent exhibitions such as “Tales of Two Cities: New York & Beijing” in 2014 at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut, and the Emergency Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale.
He has completed several permanent installations, including a mural at Santiago’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights. He completed a residency at the Rockefeller Foundation in Bellagio, Italy, in 2013. Notable awards include the New York Foundation for the Arts in 1988 and 1992, and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship in 1988.