A young photographer to watch, Sibusiso Bheka is currently showing a selection of his work at the Also Known as Africa (AKAA) art fair in Paris this weekend. Shot entirely in Thokoza township, east of Johannesburg, where he lives and works, his work extends the South African township documentary photography tradition into more considered and aesthetic territory.
Born in Thokoza in 1997, Bheka learned his trade at the Thokoza photography mentoring and educational project Of Soul and Joy, where he is currently the Project Assistant. He has shown previously as part of the 11th edition Rencontres de Bamako -African Biennale of photography in 2017 and has also shown the National Museum of World Culture, Leiden, Netherlands in 2018. Bheka was shortlisted for the Magnum Foundation Photography and Social Justice Fellowship in 2018 and in the 2019 he was nominated for the Joop Swart Masterclass and shortlisted for the CAP Prize for Contemporary African Photography. Recently he has shown at Arles Photo Encounters in 2020 and the Bristol Photo Festival in 2021.
Part of an internationally renowned and rich vein of South African fine art documentary photography that includes Peter Magubane, Sanu Mofokeng, Sabelo Mlangeni and David Goldblatt, Bheka’s work documents his township environment by night or at twilight. He composes and lights his images in a way that transforms the banal and poverty-stricken reality of life in a post-apartheid South African township into a surrealist, strangely lit alien environment, full of wonder, pathos and possibility. His work never shies away from the downtrodden nature of his environment. But he uses light and colour, in particular in his framing of subjects and his ability to use the atmospheres which the liminal time of twilight or the mystery of evening light brings, in order to turn Thokoza into an almost mythical set of landscapes.
Bheka’s work is a worthy addition to the South African honours roll of intelligent, considered and insightful fine art documentary photographers that are one of the country’s great contributions to global art.