Meleko Mokgosi was announced as the winner of the Hammer Museum's first-ever Mohn Award, given to the top artist in the museum's "Made in L.A." exhibit featuring 60 L.A. artists. The award grants $100,000 over two years and a book published about the artist's work.
While art awards tend to juried prizes, the Mohn is notable in that the public voted on the winner, after a jury of curators narrowed it to five finalists.
For "Made in L.A." Mokgosi created large-scale paintings that wrapped around three walls, examining political issues in post-colonial Africa.
The other finalists were a range of different media: performance artist Simone Forti, art collective Slanguage, and the multimedia installations of Liz Glynn and Erika Vogt. The show, which runs through Sept. 2, has drawn more than 50,000 attendees, and a little over 2,000 people voted.
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Mokgosi was born in Botswana in 1981, and studied art at Williams College before getting his MFA at UCLA in 2011. He now lives and works in Culver City.
"I'm very happy, very proud about it," he says, when reached by phone in New York City, where he's currently an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem. "You can't anticipate these things. I was just waiting to hear from the Hammer. I had no idea."
His paintings at the Hammer are part of a larger series of more than 50 paintings on the legacy of colonialism in Africa, which he will use the award's funds to complete over the next couple years, he says. "It's conveying the messages that are very important to me and need to be said."