Beyond the frame: Lindokuhle Sobekwa's visionary lens and the 2023 FNB Art Prize

By Lindelwa Masuku

Lindokuhle Sobekwa, a visionary South African photographer whose lens weaves stories of resilience, heritage, and the human spirit. As he claims the prestigious 2023 FNB Art Prize, we delve into Sobekwa's captivating journey. 

Lindokuhle Sobekwa, a trailblazing South African photographer, has claimed the coveted 2023 FNB Art Prize, a testament to his unparalleled ability to intertwine raw human emotion with the stark realities of his surroundings.

Sobekwa's journey through the lens began in 2012, an artistic awakening that transpired not just within the walls of a classroom, but within the lives he chose to illuminate. 

"My education in photography was not only based in school, where they teach you but also in the people I photograph," he wisely reflects. 

It is this very sentiment that courses through his arresting works, a fusion of storytelling and introspection.

Born into the "born free" generation, Sobekwa embodies the spirit of a nation transitioning from apartheid to newfound freedom. His images, often poetic yet profoundly visceral, transcend mere documentation. 

Lindokuhle Sobekwa in his younger days

Through his lens, townships cease to be mere physical spaces; they evolve into living, breathing testimonies of the resilience and humanity that thrive even in the most challenging circumstances.

The FNB Art Prize stands as a testament to Sobekwa's unyielding dedication to his craft. Beyond the realm of the prestigious award, FNB Art Joburg emerges as a beacon of artistic enrichment, spearheading a mission to uplift the continent's cultural mosaic. 

This annual event, now in its 8th iteration, extends its influence beyond the fairgrounds, carving a path to sustainable support for artists whose stories often remain untold.

Artwork of Lindokuhle Sobekwa - Kids playing with plastic pipes (from the Place of Peace series), 2014 archival ink print on Baryta

Sobekwa's visual narratives have undeniably served as conduits for change. His early projects, exposing the dark underbelly of poverty and the nyaope drug crisis, reverberate with an empathetic urgency. 

Yet, it is his ongoing exploration of personal tales, his own included, that solidify his status as a true luminary.

Artwork Image captured by Lindokuhle Sobekwa

In "Nyaope," a series that earned him recognition both locally and globally, Sobekwa confronts viewers with lives unraveling like old mattresses against the backdrop of township walls. 

This collaboration with his subjects extends an invitation, urging us to bear witness to lives both discarded and determined.

Gogo Lucy Zwane in her garden. Johannesburg, Thokoza, South Africa, 2021. From the series Ezilalini (The Country)

Venturing beyond the townships, Sobekwa captures the essence of rural life with "Ezilalini (The Country)." This sweeping body of work embarks on a 9-hour journey from his Johannesburg home to the Eastern Cape, a voyage towards ancestral roots paved by oral histories. 

The remnants of his father's wedding at the Donkey Church stand as monuments to a history both personal and collective.

Sanele Resting in Field. 2021 Lindokuhle Sobekwa Edition of 3+ 2AP 80 x 100cm Archival Pigment Print

"Sanele Resting in Field " serves as a testament to Sobekwa's unique ability to infuse the ordinary with extraordinary resonance. 

A snapshot of his nephew, set against a lush green landscape, embodies a tranquility born from tumultuous history. A reminder that even amidst the echoes of past conflicts, life and solace can flourish.

Sobekwa's triumph in 2023 serves as an invitation to reconsider our perception of the world, unearthing humanity's steadfast spirit in the face of adversity. 

Lindokuhle Sobekwa

His lens, a bridge between worlds, illuminates the beauty that flourishes even in the darkest corners. 

As FNB Art Joburg continues to champion such narratives, Sobekwa's win underscores the power of art to transcend barriers and beckon us to peer more deeply into the hearts of those around us.

Lindokuhle Sobekwa's words ring true: his education and artistry extend beyond the confines of a classroom, intertwining with the lives that dance within his frame. 

Congratulations to Lindokuhle Sobekwa, Winner of the 2023 FNB Art Prize

Through his lens, we find ourselves at the intersection of raw emotion and stark reality, compelled to engage with stories often overlooked. 

In celebrating Sobekwa's victory, we are reminded that art, like life itself, is a tapestry woven from countless threads, each contributing to a masterpiece that celebrates the human experience in all its complexity.

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Lindokuhle Sobekwa


2023 FNB Art Prize


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