Since the end of May this year, the African Leadership Academy (ALA) has been hosting 21 Icons, an exhibition which, as its name implies, features 21 people, whose accomplishments have had an enormously positive impact on thousands, if not millions of South Africans. It is hoped that by showcasing the extraordinary accomplishments of these icons at the ALA, the academy’s students will be inspired to work even harder to change Africa for the better.
Initially, the project featured just a few select figures, such as FW de Klerk, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela; however, as it evolved, more and more people were added, including athletes, businesspeople, lawyers, human rights activists, musicians, academics, artists and statesmen. Although the photographs are the primary attraction, the display also features a collection of essays and short films, all of which have been created by Adrian Steirn and his team.
As an art lover, Tunde Folawiyo has no doubt heard of Steirn, a filmmaker and photographer, whose work focuses primarily on portraiture, wildlife and fine art. The 21 Icons project is his most significant work to date, although he has enjoyed a successful career over the past decade, having had his images printed in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Financial Review, The Times of London and National Geographic.
His photography style is unusual, in that it remains as true to the original image as possible, with little editing done to the photos after they are taken. Steirn prefers to capture the object or figure in its actual form, and aims to avoid any visual manipulation of his subjects. This approach has served him well in the 21 Icons project, helping him to create powerful, honest images of some of South Africa’s most exemplary people.
He first came up with the idea five years ago; working with a group of artistically-inclined friends, he began to document the men and women who had dedicated their lives to improving the quality of life for people in South Africa. It evolved over the years, from a tiny idea into a global project.
Over the course of the next few weeks, the ALA will continue to feature one icon a day, and will complete the exhibition at the academy’s graduation ceremony. Those who are familiar with the ALA, like Tunde Folawiyo, might be aware that the committee is also asking students to decide who their personal African icon is, and to write a brief essay on this person that they can then share with their peers on graduation day.