2023 FNB Art Prize: Lindokuhle Sobekwa Emerges Winner

Lindokuhle Sobekwa

FNB Art Joburg’s commitment to enriching the cultural landscape of the African continent took center stage last month as they unveiled the winner of the prestigious 2023 FNB Art Prize. The prize, designed to promote and sustain artistic talent on the continent, has recognized an exceptional talent in the form of documentary photographer Lindokuhle Sobekwa.

In a groundbreaking moment for the art world, Sobekwa becomes the first documentarian to clinch the coveted prize, joining a distinguished list of past winners. Previous laureates include Dada Khanyisa, Wycliffe Mundopa, Lady Skollie, Bronwyn Katz, Haroon Gunn-Salie, Peju Alatise, Nolan Oswald Dennis, Turiya Magadlela, Portia Zvavahera, Nelisiwe Xaba, Mocke J van Veuren, and Kudzanai Chiurai.

Lindokuhle Sobekwa, a 1995-born South African photographer hailing from Katlehong, Johannesburg, began his journey into photography in 2012 through the Of Soul and Joy photography education program in Thokoza township, where his family had relocated. Under the guidance of mentors like Bieke Depoorter, Cyprien Clément-Delmas, Thabiso Sekgala, Tjorven Bruyneel, and Kutlwano Moagi, Sobekwa honed his skills.

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Ezilalini. Image courtesy of Lindokuhle Sobekwa and the conversation.

His profound connection with visual storytelling started in his youth when he realized that he could externalize his thoughts and experiences through the lens of a camera. Sobekwa’s photography serves as a historical reflection of the present, transcending geographical and temporal boundaries, and inviting viewers to witness the past in the present moment.

Sobekwa’s winning portfolio includes two compelling series: “Lockdown” and “Ezilalini (The Country).” “Lockdown” documents life in Thokoza during the COVID-19 pandemic, shedding light on the impact of extreme inequality and the violence it exacerbates. Yet, amidst these challenges, Sobekwa’s lens captures moments of beauty, love, and community that endure.

On the other hand, “Ezilalini” is a poignant journey to Tsomo in the Eastern Cape province, tracing the migration of Sobekwa’s family from this region. It explores the historical injustices of apartheid, which confined black South Africans to small homelands while granting white farmers access to their ancestral lands. Many were forced to become migrant laborers in the cities to make ends meet.

The 2023 FNB Art Prize jury, composed of Abigail Rands (marketing manager of Krone), Dr. Joy Simmons (collector, philanthropist, radiologist), and Kim Kandan (fair manager, FNB Art Joburg representative), praised Sobekwa for creating powerful documentary photography that captures an explicitly South African narrative. His work delves into the harsh realities and tender moments of current times and experiences.

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Lockdown. Image courtesy of Lindokuhle Sobekwa and the conversation.

Faye Mfikwe, FNB Chief Marketing Officer, expressed her congratulations to Lindokuhle Sobekwa, emphasizing that the FNB Art Prize was established to recognize talent and innovation in the arts. She highlighted the importance of artists pushing the boundaries of conventional thinking through creative expression and the bank’s ongoing commitment to support and grow the creative economy across the African continent.

Sobekwa’s artistic journey has been marked by milestones, starting with a group show in Thokoza in 2013 organized by Rubis Mecenat at the Ithuba Art Gallery in Johannesburg. His essay “Nyaope” was published in the South African newspaper Mail & Guardian in 2014 and subsequently in Vice Magazine’s Annual Photo Issue and De Standaard.

In 2015, Sobekwa received a scholarship to study at the Market Photo Workshop, where he completed a foundation course. His series “Nyaope” was exhibited in a group show titled “Free From My Happiness,” organized by Rubis Mecenat at the International Photo Festival of Ghent in Belgium. In 2016, he left South Africa for a residency in Tehran, Iran, with the No Man’s Art Gallery, and his work continued to be displayed in the traveling iteration of “Free From My Happiness.”

His work is featured in the book “Free from my Happiness,” edited by Bieke Depoorter and Tjorven Bruyneel. Sobekwa has also participated in the group show “Fresh Produce,” organized by Assemblages and VANSA at the Turbine Art Fair in Johannesburg. Additionally, he serves as an assistant to the Of Soul and Joy Project Manager and as a trainee at Mikhael Subotzky Studio.

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Lockdown. Image courtesy of Lindokuhle Sobekwa and the conversation

In 2017, Sobekwa was selected by the Magnum Foundation for Photography and Social Justice to develop the project “I Carry Her Photo With Me.” He received the Magnum Foundation Fund in 2018 to continue his long-term project “Nyaope” and was selected for the residency Cité des Arts Réunion.

Sobekwa achieved Magnum Nominee status in 2018. His work made its museum debut at Huis Marseille in the Netherlands in 2022, just before becoming a member of Magnum Photos and receiving the inaugural John Kobal Foundation Fellowship.

As the winner of the 2023 prize, Sobekwa will be awarded a cash prize and the opportunity to present a solo exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, home to the largest art collection on the continent. This recognition is a testament to Sobekwa’s exceptional talent and his invaluable contributions to the world of documentary photography and the cultural landscape of Africa.

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