Japan’s highest art honour for Athol Fugard

17 July 2014

South African playwright Athol Fugard, the creator of anti-apartheid masterpieces such as Blood Knot, The Island and Master Harold … and the Boys, has been named as the first African recipient of a Praemium Imperiale International Arts Award, Japan’s highest honour in the arts.

The five winners of the 2014 awards – Fugard in the theatre/film category, Martial Raysse for painting, Giuseppe Penone for sculpture, Steven Holl for architecture, and Arvo Part for music – were announced in Paris on Wednesday.

“The five artists are recognized and awarded for their achievements, for the impact they have had internationally on the arts, and for their role in enriching the global community,” the Japan Art Association said in a statement.

The awards, each of which comes with an honorarium of 15-million yen (about R1.5-million), will be handed over at a ceremony in Tokyo on 15 October.

Fugard’s plays have been performed around the world from the early 1960s onwards, establishing him as a major artist.

“The passion in his works stems from a deep sense of justice and a feeling of personal moral responsibility to give voice to the weak and voiceless – in turn giving his plays universal meaning,” the Japan Art Association said.

His first novel, Tsotsi (1980) was made into a film that won the Oscar for the best foreign language film in 2006, and he received a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre in 2011.

In April this year, his latest play, The Shadow of the Hummingbird, premiered in New York, with Fugard, now 82, appearing on stage in an acting role for the first time in 15 years. The play, with the same cast, will run at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre from 30 July to 17 August.

Fugard joins an illustrious list of former recipients of the award, including playwrights Arthur Miller and Tom Stoppard, filmmakers Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa and Jean-Luc Godard, and performers John Gielgud, Pina Bausch, Sakato Tojuro and Sophia Loren.

SAinfo reporter