FNB Art Joburg
06-08.09.24
Sandton Convention
Centre, Johannesburg,
South Africa

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FNB Art Prize

The camera as a passport to expression

with Lindokuhle Sobekwa

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In 2024 Lindokuhle Sobekwa won the FNB Art Prize. Now represented by Goodman Gallery, Sobekwa walks us through the expansion of his practice by embracing photography’s potential relationship with performance. 

An artist working in the medium of documentary photography, Lindokuhle Sobekwa’s practice uses the camera, installation and performance to historically contemplate the present. Soaked in materialism and subtly resolving geographical and temporal distances, in his hand the camera invites absent presences, that were there when his images were made, into the present. 

Connected to the photographic constellation, Sobekwa references Ernest Cole, Santu Mofokeng, David Goldblatt and Josef Koudelka as photographers who informed the foundation of what has become a conceptual practice. Imbued in time, attention, feedback and collaboration: he hopes to encourage audiences to put a pause on passive perceptions.

Perhaps we can start with some reflection. We always talk about the impact that work has on its audience. I want to know if your practice has had any visceral impact on you. 

 

I think photography saved me. It has been a platform for me to have difficult conversations. It became a kind of passport or tool for expression and enabling delicate confrontation with experiences and circumstances. With the camera in my hand, I was brave enough to push boundaries and investigate things that I would have otherwise not confronted.  

 

I remember receiving a box of booklets from Of Soul and Joy a few years ago after meeting Jabulani Dhlamini. It was years ago so it’s hazy, but that’s when I was first introduced to your work. Considering the momentum your practice has gained over the last few years, how would you describe the place that it is in at the moment?

 

Lindokuhle Sobekwa. My practice has really evolved from my teenage years, when I first shot the Nyaope series which looked at drug usage amongst youth I grew up with. My next substantial body of work was Daleside where I explored a community that I had unresolved curiosity about. This was a place where my mother had worked as a domestic worker, which meant that my time with her growing up was limited. Another foundational body of work is I carry Her photo with Me. This is also my most vulnerable series. In it I trace my sister’s footsteps; my sister had disappeared for a decade and then passed away shortly after we were reunited. This is also where I started to use the aesthetics of scrapbooks with handwritten notes to present my work. I carry Her photo with Me is a means for me to engage both with the memory of my sister and the wider implications of such disappearances—a troubling part of South Africa’s history now. This series and its follow up Ezilalini (The Country) show how I am reflecting more on my life and experiences, and mapping that on to South Africa’s larger history and socioeconomic struggles. This speaks to the expansion of my documentary practice beyond the camera. I am now experimenting with performance lectures. 



The prompt to read photography in a conceptual framework is as exciting as it is fitting for where we see your practice going. Tell me more about where this began for you. 

 

When I started at the Of Soul and Joy project, our teachers introduced us to a lot of great photographic books, which was like a light bulb moment because, at first, I thought photography was for weddings or birthday parties; I never thought that people could use photography to tell stories and express themselves. A photographic book that was burnt in my mind is Ernest Cole’s House of Bandage. I remember looking at this book as a young boy alone at night. The book was powerfully and eloquently layered, and while looking at the images, I had a rush of emotion seeing the realities that black people endured during apartheid. That book motivated me to follow the footsteps of making impactful work like Ernest Cole.

 

I do think the public’s relationship with new media mediums is growing here in South Africa. Especially when you look at the likes of young artists such as yourself and Thembinkosi Hlatshwayo whose photographic practices embrace performance in very tactile ways. You’re opening up our minds to how we engage with photography. While I was listening to your 2023 John Kobal Foundation Fellowship Lecture at Tate Modern, one of the things you mentioned was seeing people and how there is a lot that is involved before, during and after making a photograph. Could you talk us through the responsibility that comes with seeing people. 

 

The responsibility of seeing goes a long way. It is a responsibility to care, to feel, to connect and to engage. With this comes the responsibility to acknowledge the privilege of being allowed to be a witness and being mindful not to overstep the boundaries. Finding ways to collaborate has been a constant practice in all my work. You can trace it to the beginnings of my work, like the Nyaope series, where I took a participatory approach with Amajita in making the images and allowing Amajita to tell their stories. Their stories were juxtaposed with the images I created of them. This created a space for people to be empathetic and get to know Amajita beyond just being drug users.

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Ruth Ige. Don't hide your glory, 2022.
Acrylic on canvas. 122 x 122cm. (© Copyright 2022, STEVENSON. All rights reserved)

Friday, 8th September

Collection tour of Anglo American

Location
144 Oxford Rd, Rosebank

Date
8 September 2023
11am

Event details

The Anglo American art and object collection is a combination of art collected over several decades through four different companies: Anglo American, de Beers Group, Anglo American Platinum and Kumba Iron Ore.

The collection comprises of 3600 works, with around 1000 pieces in the collection on display at the newly commissioned Rosebank offices. Although vast, the collection experienced an acquisition hiatus from the early 2000s until 2021 creating a significant gap in the collection’s representation of contemporary art. The collection now has a dedicated curator, Megan Scott, tasked with its cataloguing and digitisation, opening an exciting new chapter which will see the gradual procurement of significant works that reflect our contemporary South African and African art world.

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