Pupil’s Mandela song wins John Byrne art prize

A SCOTTISH teenager’s song about an iconic sculpture of Nelson Mandela has won a prestigious art and ethics competition for school pupils.

Michelangelo Mulholland won the John Byrne prize. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Michelangelo Mulholland won the John Byrne prize. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The John Byrne Award has been claimed by Michelangelo Mulholland, 17, of St Thomas of Aquin’s High, who was one of 43 entrants from 21 schools.

The contest, which carries a first prize of £7000, was set up by the Edinburgh-based artist four years ago to try to offer a new challenge sixth-year pupils across the city.

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Each year they are asked to respond to explore moral and ethical issues through a specific piece of work.

Last year the challenge focused on The Proclaimers song Letter From America and this year the pupils had to produce a piece of new work inspired by the huge sculpture - Capture Site - of the former South African president which can be found at Howick, in the Natal area, where he was arrested in 1962 after going on the run for 17 months.

Other entries this year included a poem, a dance, a piece of classical music and even a sculpture of a gun.

Writer and broadcaster Richard Holloway, the former Bishop of Edinburgh, said he was “moved and blown away” by the winning entry, a folk song called 50 Fractured Bars, which was inspired the striking design of Marco Cianfanelli’s sculpture.

Alex Wallace, chair of the judging panel, who also heads up a project supporting township schools in South Africa, said: “Michelangelo produced a deeply thoughtful vision of words and images.

“The sculptures inspired him to explore Mandela’s values intelligently and to relate them to his own and those of his own society.”

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Byrne, who was born in Paisley, but first made his name in Edinburgh with the Fringe play The Slab Boys, added: “The award is very important to me in as much as it encourages young adults to cast a critical eye over values which we older people hold dear, then deliver, more often than not, an entirely fresh and very modern take on those value. It’s a wonderful competition.”