Kulani Nkuna
3 minute read
2 Jul 2014
10:40 am

Sipho Gongxeka’s focus on township life

Kulani Nkuna

As a midfield anchor in the football leagues of Phiri, Soweto, Sipho "Siga" Gongxeka was accustomed to cleaning up when tjatjarag attacking players came his way.

Sipho Gongxeka addresses the depiction of township characters in the media. Pictures: Supplied

At 20, his road diverged into two paths: a career in football or into the creative world as a graphic designer. Then there was a chance encounter with a camera, ironically during the 2010 Fifa World Cup. While enjoying the festivities at one of the fan parks, a friend’s small digital camera wound up in Gongxeka’s hands.

“Photography was not even in my five-year plan, because I only had football and graphic design in my mind,” starts Gongxeka.

“And then out of the blue, I had to take pictures with my friends at the fan fests and I was hooked. There was something about capturing the moment and having the memory of this historical time in our country. It became immediately clear for me that this was the career that I should follow.”

Photography allowed Gongxeka to make sense of his environment beyond his station of doing the dirty work on the football pitch. The two remain linked however, as the camera gave him perspective, and his work, like his position on the field of play, is in part concerned with being a gatekeeper. His debut exhibition, Skeem Saka, with the Market Photo Workshop, is about dismantling notions of the township as depicted in film and television and by outsiders.

“Photography certainly makes a person view the world in a certain way and more importantly it gives you the power to tell your own story,” Gongxeka says.

Sipho Gongxeka explores notions of fashion and  black masculinity in his Skeem Saka exhibition.

Sipho Gongxeka explores notions of fashion and
black masculinity in his Skeem Saka exhibition.

“We can’t depend on outsiders to tell stories of the township. We have a responsibility to tell our own stories. I am immersed in my subject matter as this is the community I grew up and live in, so I have a better understanding of it. Art has also allowed me to step back and look at it from another perspective.”

Gongxeka’s exhibition delves into issues of black township masculinity as depicted in the media. Shows like Yizo Yizo and films like Tsotsi, Hijack Stories and others portray the black male that is entrenched in violence. Gongxeka takes it further by scrutinising the politics of skin tone, because it seems that only the darkest men play the grittiest gangsters.

“My original idea was to recreate stereotypes from South African gangster movies,” explains Gongxeka.

“By doing this I wanted to illustrate how these films represent black men in the township. As I looked deeper into the work, there were issues around blackness and the black personality in relation to the media. These depictions are problematic because sometimes they set the tone for behaviour and most of these situations are misleading and false. It is a one-sided view that keeps on being perpetuated.”

The work also extends to fashion and how clothes carry with them certain tags in terms of identity and boxing people in.

“I am relieved that a certain dress code does not necessarily accompany a certain mode of behaviour or personality and I look at that as well in the exhibition,” Gongxeka concludes.

 Skeem Saka runs at the Market Photo Workshop from July 10 until August 15.