/ 25 August 2022

The BIC Art Master competition introduces a new generation of artists

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With the Arts Master Africa Competition, BIC has elevated the status of artists who have taken the time to put in the work and stand out from the crowd.

Competitions are important because they can serve as a way to find talent and improve the lives of those involved. For over five years, a competition which started in the cities of South Africa, has grown, spreading across countries in the Middle East and Africa. 

With the Arts Master Africa Competition, BIC has elevated the status of artists who have taken the time to put in the work and stand out from the crowd. Entries for its fifth edition close on 31 August and the winners will be announced in October.

I spoke to the organisers Bana Badwan, the senior regional communications manager for MEA and India, and Kutlwano Tshethlane, marketing manager for BIC Stationery SA, who shared insights on the competition, the journey of the artists and what we should expect from the competition.

Tell us more about this competition…

Badwan: The BIC Awards Master Africa Competition started in 2017 in South Africa and has expanded into other parts of Africa. Last year, it expanded into the Middle East as well and all of this is due to the success it has had. Art Master basically encourages people and young artists in the creative industry to express themselves through art, using the iconic BIC pen.

Why was this competition started? 

Tshethlane: Before the competition was born, we had a lot of creatives send us things that they’d done on our social media channels, and we saw that there was a need for artists to showcase what they can do and have people engage with it. Since we’re really all about driving human expression, we thought to put it on a platform where consumers can see and engage with the creatives and the artists getting some kind of incentive for the beautiful artwork they were doing. It was a no-brainer for us to take a tool that is used on an everyday basis and show that, with just a humble ballpen, you can create magic. 

What has the reception been since its debut in 2017?

Tshethlane: It’s been received very well globally. We have got a number of entries, particularly from Nigeria and Kenya, so we understand that there’s huge interest not only from artists, but from consumers as well. Also, based on the performance from Africa alone, we saw the opportunity to also take it to the Middle East. It’s a competition that’s receiving amazing feedback and engagement, from both artists and consumers.

What’s the process like? What would you look out for?

Badwan: The first thing is that those who are looking to participate need to be from the creative space. Then, they need to be ballpoint artists. They don’t need to use a BIC pen in every single piece they’ve done but they need to be a ballpoint pen artist. That’s predominantly what we look out for. Every year, we have a theme and this year’s is “Celebrating Africa”, so we would need someone who can actually visualise things and be able to express themselves, touch on the theme, but also look beyond it.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

Badwan: I don’t  know if you want to classify this as a challenge but we receive more entries in certain countries than in others. For example, Nigeria is a place where this competition is very popular, and a lot of people are very talented, whereas there are some countries we don’t get entries from. So, a challenge for us would be to equally increase the submissions from countries across the regions.

Tshethlane: The challenges that we have picked up are obviously because there are more countries participating in the competition but one of the major learnings has been that different countries interpret the themes differently. The theme we went for this year was broader and more open to interpretation. We want to level the playing field for everybody. Also, some countries are not as digitally advanced, so there were some challenges with the artists being unable to submit their artworks. But, for the most part, the competition is doing really well and the challenges are good challenges to have.

We have seen the impact from the consumer angle. How has this affected BIC?

Badwan: BIC has specific strategic pillars. One is around education, others are creativity and sustainability. We also have something called the BIC Corporate Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of BIC. What this competition has done is that it’s created a strong link between BIC in the Middle Eastern and African regions, with the BIC Corporate Foundation, because it really ties in with what we all do. It’s also affected BIC on a wider level because we’re known for our arts and culture, and if you look at BIC’s presence in Europe, there’s a gallery there. It’s linked back to there.

It’s also impacted the team. So, the team at Art Master Africa is also really proud to see where their campaign and initiative has gone, how many people it has impacted, and how it has impacted the creatives who took part in the competition. 

What are your hopes for the future of this competition?

Badwan: I would like it to expand all through the geographies, and not just the Middle East and Africa, and I can see how that’s already happening, given the traction of the campaign so far. I would ideally also like to see creatives and young talents who have participated in Arts Master Africa get exposure and visibility. For me, these are the two main things.

Tshethlane: In addition, I would like to see this campaign really change the lives of artists, especially the ones who come from humble beginnings. That’s always my hope with this competition. I really want consumers to approach BIC Stationery and understand that, yes, we are about writing instruments, but we’re also about self-expression. We want to be the brand people also consider when they’re feeling creative.

  • First, second, and third place competition winners will be named Africa’s Art Masters and receive cash prizes of $2 000, $1 000 and $500, respectively. The first-place regional winner will also receive an online personal gallery and the opportunity to join the BIC Art Collection exhibited in Paris, France. National winners will receive a prize of $500 each.