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By Bonginkosi Tiwane

Digital Journalist

‘Photography helped me to forget there’s no food’ says FNB Art Prize winner Lindokuhle Sobekwa

The Katlehong-born photographer becomes the first to win the prize after years of recognition of other mediums of art.

Photographer Lindokuhle Sobekwa was announced as the new FNB Art Prize winner in Sandton on Tuesday. One of the speakers at the announcement juxtaposed Sobekwa’s win to Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro winning the prestigious Ballon d’Or award.

Sobekwa is the first photographer in the history of the competition to win the prize. Previous winners include fine artist Lady Skollie and performance artist Nelisiwe Xaba.

“In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would be where I’m at with photography. For me, as long as I could tell the stories I want to tell and I can take a great picture,” 28 year-old Sobekwa told The Citizen.

Lindokuhle Sobekwa FNB Art Prize winner
One of Lindokuhle’s famous photos from the series I Carr Her Photo With Me. Pictured is Lindokuhle’s mother inside their home. Picture supplied.

“I think it’s significant in the sense photographers get the recognition they deserve. A lot of them have felt like they’re not recognised,” FNB Art Joburg’s Managing Director, Mandla Sibeko said to The Citizen.

“The prize itself is always looking at promising talent,” says Sibeko. “The people who are actually sitting and adjudicating, are very talented people.”

“I don’t know if Lindokuhle knows one of the judges has been collecting art for 40 years. A black woman. She’s a doctor from the US, has been collecting different generations, basically four generations,” shares Sibeko.

FNB Art Joburg’s Managing Director, Mandla Sibeko
Mandla Sibeko. Picture: Kim Kandan

The Art Prize jury was made up of Abigail Rands, Kim Kandan and Dr Joy Simmons. “She’s [Simmons] never met him. She looked at his portfolio and said ‘yea, this is it’.”

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Who is Lindokuhle Sobekwa?

The photographer, who hails from Thokoza in Ekurhuleni, is a laid back fella who does little speaking, but is articulate with his photography.

He was introduced to photography through his participation in the Of Soul and Joy photography education programme in Thokoza during 2012. But prior to this he was a keen dancer and enjoyed playing soccer.  

“I wasn’t that good but I used to play soccer, I was very good at dancing,” he says about life before the camera. He did Pantsula dance and then also went into the sbujwa dance style.

Lindokuhle's Lockdown Series
An image from Lindokuhle’s Lockdown Series. Picture supplied

His dance skills attracted the wrong crowd, a group at school who asked him to join a Skhotane group which is synonymous with being flashy and wearing expensive clothes.

“That’s where the problem started. At home they told me to stay away from the group because they kept on wasting money, and I didn’t have money.”

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It was here photography came into Sobekwa’s life.

“Photography helped me to forget there’s no food in the house, I would distract my mind with photography,” Sobekwa says. “It has been the most important tool for me able to just be myself.”

Just after a year, he was part of a group show in Thokoza organised by the Rubis Mécénat foundation to exhibit some of his work.

In 2014, his photo essay Nyaope was published in several prolific platforms. Thereafter he received a scholarship to study at the Market Photo Workshop where he refined his approach to the camera in both concept and technique.

Since then, Sobekwa’s success has included being selected by the Magnum Foundation for Photography and Social Justice in New York to develop his project, I carry Her photo of Me inspired by the disappearance of his sister. Two years later, the hand-made photo book was included in the African Cosmologies exhibition at the FotoFest Biennial Houston.

FNB Art Prize winner
Ezilalini (The Country) by Lindokuhle. Picture supplied

“I’ve had great mentors, you know, I mean, people like Santu Mofokeng and I’ve also had the privilege of meeting David Goldblatt,” says Sobekwa.

“They’ve always told me to be yourself, you know, they told me to find your voice, which is not an easy thing. Because finding a voice requires a lot of work and a lot of trial and error until you find that.”

In 2022 the artist made his museum show debut at Huis Marseille in the Netherlands before becoming a member of Magnum Photos and receiving the inaugural John Kobal Foundation Fellowship.

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