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By Bonginkosi Tiwane

Digital Journalist

SA photographer Vuyo Mabheka on being selected to showcase his work in France

In May the 24 year-old received the prestigious Grand Prix Images Vevey Special Jury Prize Award for his photo series, Popihuise.

South African photographer Vuyo Mabheka’s work was part of the prestigious the Salon Approche Art Fair in France, selected as one of 15 artists globally to show their work at the art fair.

“I can say it came as a surprise,” Mabheka told The Citizen. “I create my work for people to see. I don’t really plan; I just know that I’m an artist.”

Founded in 2017 by Emilia Genuardi, Approche is an independent boutique art fair with a curatorial gaze, designed as an exhibition. Since its first edition, Approche has been committed to showing the new and multiple languages of experimental photography.  

Mabheka’s Popihuise series which explores the 24 year-old’s upbringing was selected to showcase at the fair. In May Mabheka became a recipient of Images Vevey Special Jury Prize 2023/2024 for the same work.

In a statement, the Grand Prix Images Vevey jury said: “Through his photography, Vuyo Mabheka seeks out some kind of expressive truth as a way to restore his memories and to find a way to come to terms with the reality of life in a South African township, for himself and his community.”

Popihuise’ is a Xhosa vernacular version of the Afrikaans word for doll’s house and the series explores the artist’s lived experience through collaged still images, contrasting the childhood memories and the toys he would play with while surrounded by the reality of life in a South African township.  

“I work with collages. I’m more interested in creating an image. I don’t want to call it fine art, because it’s images.”

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Mabheka’s upbringing

As a child Mabheka grew up with his grandmother, but after she died, he moved around a lot with his mother and little sister until they finally settled in the township of Thokoza outside of Johannesburg.

“I think she’s happy for me,” Mabheka says about how his mother took news of him being selected to show in France and winning the Grand Prix Images Vevey.

“You tell people that you’ve won, and they just congratulate you. They don’t really understand what happens in the art world. But I don’t like it when people put me in the spotlight,” said the shy artist, who used to be a rapper. “I was a rapper before and I wasn’t comfortable being on stage.”

Mabheka was introduced to photography by Thokoza-based Of Soul and Joy photography programme in 2017.

Found by Rubis Mécénat and Easigas in Thokoza, Of Soul and Joy aims to provide the township’s youth and surrounding areas with professional skills in the field of photography.

“Vuyo’s work bears witness to the complex experience of his childhood, and how this came to form his identity in relation to his social and family context,” said Of Soul and Joy project manager and mentor Jabulani Dhlamini.

Mabheka describes the programme as “a community of artists, a platform that allows you to grow. It’s been supportive throughout the years”.

The young photographer will be showcasing his work next year in Switzerland after winning the Grand Prix Images Vevey Prize.

“I want my work to be in books, to be archived so that people know that you existed.”

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