In August of last year, we featured an interview with the sixth recipient of the Tierney fellowship, Sipho Gongxeka (read the interview here). Sipho told us about his love for photography, David Goldblatt’s Market Photo Workshop and the experience of being mentored by renowned photographer Pieter Hugo. Sipho also told us about the product of his fellowship – a series of fashion documentary photographs titled Skeem Saka that was to be exhibited at his first ever solo exhibition at the Photo Workshop Gallery in Johannesburg. Today, we have the arresting new Skeem Saka photographs to show.
In Skeem Saka, Sipho aims to illustrate and question how the portrayal of black characters in the television shows and gangster films of his youth has influenced contemporary black identity and fashion. In his artist statement, Sipho says, “Growing up in Soweto, I was continuously surrounded by fashion conscious individuals. To these individuals, clothing was a status symbol that separated ‘the men’ from ‘the boys’. It signified power and affluence just like the characters I grew up watching on television and in films.”
Sipho is interested in the way that real gangsters base their identities and fashion around fictional characters. He says, “I am interested in how this idea of fiction and ‘reality’ feed into each other. I am captivated by this circular relationship.” It is for this reason that the photographs often resemble film stills. Skeem Saka also highlights different media-produced black identity stereotypes by showing subjects in both stereotyped and more unusual or vulnerable spaces and poses.
Pieter Hugo, Sipho’s mentor during the fellowship, had nothing but praise for the new body of work and Sipho’s artistic practice saying, “He has produced an amazing body of work that is both intimate and intelligent. What started out as a few photographs has developed into a moving and coherent resolved series, which speaks volumes about Sipho’s way of seeing the world with all its complexities.”
Born in 1989 in Soweto, Johannesburg, Sipho developed his love for fashion and photography after high school. He attended the Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg from 2011 to 2012 and completed the Foundation, Intermediate and Advanced Programme in Photography courses after which he received the Tierney fellowship. We look forward to Sipho’s upcoming projects as well as the work of those he will mentor in the future.