Sekgala's suicide a story of ‘frustrated black artist’

2014-10-20 17:51

A distinctive storyteller who forged relationships with his subjects and communities.

This is how John Fleetwood, head of the Market Photo Workshop, today described talented photographer and artist Thabiso Sekgala who died on Wednesday.

Although details about his death are still sketchy, Fleetwood confirmed that the talented artist had committed suicide.

The news of Sekgala’s passing shocked friends and colleagues who had crossed paths with him during his illustrious career that spanned just under a decade.

Photographic artist and friend Sabelo Mlangeni said Sekgala was a trusted soldier and a colleague who stood up for what he believed in.

“We faced the same struggles as black photographers and we shared our frustrations about our struggles in in an industry that does not honour black artists,” he said today.

Mlangeni said Sekgala’s death should be seen as a statement of a frustrated black artist who wanted to be treated with dignity and respect in a country and industry where black artists are treated unequally and at times unfairly.

Mlangeni said he found comfort in that although Sekgala died young, he had left his family a legacy through his celebrated work.

Read: Homeland blues

“It is now my responsibility as his friend to continue his legacy for respect and continue on a solid foundation laid by this committed artist and soldier.”

The Johannesburg-born artist, who studied photography at the Market Photo Workshop from 2007 to 2008, had recently returned from a year-long International Studio Programme residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, Germany.

Fleetwood said a memorial service for Sekgala would be held on Thursday at their offices in Newtown, Johannesburg.

Sekgala was awarded the Tierney Fellowship at the Market Photo Workshop in 2010 and his work has since been exhibited in London, France, Belgium and Germany. He was also nominated for the Paul Huff Award.

His work is part of the collaboration with Kalpesh Lathigra that will be the main commission for the Joburg Photo Umbrella. The exhibition opens on November 8 at the Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown.

His recent exhibition was part of the Rise and Fall of Apartheid at Museum Africa in Newtown, which saw his work being showcased alongside some of his role models’ such as Peter Magubane, Santu Mofokeng, David Goldblatt and Omar Badsha.

His Homeland series, based on the homelands created by apartheid, was a solo exhibition showcased in South Africa and Germany in 2011, and explored the themes of memory, place and interrelated self-imaging.

Sekgala was also part of the Working Title group exhibition at Goodman Gallery in April this year.

Goethe-Institut South Africa head of communications Benjamin Keuffel said although he had not worked with Sekgala on a personal level, he had witnessed some of his work at the gallery and his work “spoke of a talented photographer”.

Sekgala is survived by his daughter, mother and siblings. Fleetwood said the family would like to keep the funeral on Saturday as private as possible.

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