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Phoka Nyokong | An ‘amazing and profound’ opportunity

The winner of this year’s Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto Award, Phoka Nyokong says that he is excited for the impact that this life-changing award will have.

Phoka Nyokong Absa L'Atelier Award winner

Phoka Nyokong’s winning portfolio of work is a series of photographic works. The main preoccupation of the work is found in the themes of gender (mis)identity, collective social anxiety and the temporality of the human material experience. The work does this by imagining the human as a being whose social identity can’t be pinned down to mere rigid gender associations. A being whose socialised nature means that they may only negotiate even their most intimate emotions, particularly their fears, in the social structures within which they are born and bred. But also, through the creation of an otherworldly aesthetic figure, to re-imagine the human’s connection to a cosmic existence while still in the bodily experience. These imaginative thoughts about the nature of mankind are informed by a recognition of and struggle to grapple with the ever-impending realities of life’s transitory nature. This work, he says, also references the masquerade ceremonies of West Africa, drawing on his fascination with African cultures. 

Phoka Nyokong Absa L'Atelier Award winner

The work uses the medium of studio photography to create a performative narrative. ‘I am a restless person and a restless artist, so my work is always in between conversations,’ says Nyokong. ‘A lot of my work is inspired by my fascination with performance and the staging of ideas.
     To have won the Gerard Sekoto Award has deep meaning for Nyokong. ‘I grew up literally looking up to Gerard Sekoto… a book on his life was one of the first art books that I’d ever read and taken out from my local library.’
     During his three-month residency at the Cité International des Arts in Paris, Nyokong says that he hopes to ‘try to frequent some of the places that Gerard Sekoto would have also been to and just try to trace his steps.’
     Nyokong is currently busy with a postgraduate degree in curatorship. ‘I feel really humbled and I just want to also express my gratitude to the Absa L’Atelier for bestowing this upon me… I’m really looking forward to being in a community of artists at the Cité International des Arts in Paris. This is going to be amazing and profound,’ he says.

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