26 April 2023

Absa Gallery, in partnership with the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS), has opened its doors for a solo exhibition by Phoka Nyokong, the 2019 Absa L’Atelier Gerard Sekoto award winner. Phoka showcased his latest art collection, titled “Museum of New Hymns for the Confused.” These paintings were produced while he was in residency at NIROX in 2022. They build on an ongoing series entitled Ethnology for Genocide: The History Paintings, which focuses on, what Phoka sees as the violent entanglement of African cultural heritage with western anthropology, ethnology, museology, religion, and psychology.

Phoka is a multi-talented artist, curator, writer and researcher, whose art practice transcends several genres: from performance, sound/video and installation, photography, storytelling, curating, writing, drawing, to painting. Dating back to 2013, Phoka’s previous exhibitions have been mostly with public institutions. Some of his more recent exhibitions include the Turbine Art Fair (2018 and 2019), the Pretoria Art Museum, Lizamore and Associates, the 2019 Absa L’Atelier Exhibition at the Absa Gallery in Johannesburg, the Ernest Mancoba Dialouge at A4 Arts Foundation (2020) in Cape Town, with the most recent group show being Black Luminosity with Smac Gallery in Stellenbosch. 2020 saw his first institutional solo exhibition titled Dinoolwane, Matlotlo le Baloi, at the North-West University Art Gallery, Potchefstroom.

Phoka aims, through this exhibition, for the viewer to explore the politics and poetics of restorative culture, cultivating a speculative history through reimagining traditional myths from West Africa.

Cultural attaché and Deputy Director of French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) a lead sponsor of the Gerard Sekoto Award, Sophie Boulé expressed “I’m very delighted to witness arts and culture here in South Africa getting more recognition each year, this goes to show that our partnerships with Absa and South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA), are proving to be worthwhile in the long run. The French Institute of South Africa is determined to continue taking part in executing an artist’s dream and allowing them to take centre stage both locally and internationally. Phoka’s journey has been exceptional since winning the award in 2019 and his new art collection has definitely proven that he has a bright future ahead of him”.

“Making an impact and playing a vital role like this for young artists here in South Africa, is hardly spoken of everyday. As an organisation that is invested in future talent, it’s imperative for us to continue showcasing artists such as Phoka, bringing their talent to light. We are always proud to take part in supporting these artists in building their legacy for present and future generations,” says Dr Paul Bayliss, Senior Specialist: Art and Museum Curator at Absa Group.

Since winning the 2019 L’Atelier award, Phoka continues to share advice to up and coming artists stating that “It’s really important to know that it doesn't come easily, it comes with being humble, sacrifices and being dedicated to your work. I’ll always be grateful to Absa, the South African National Association for the Visual Arts (SANAVA) and the French Institute of South Africa for this opportunity and how it has changed not only my career as an artist, but my life as a whole. This Award is really humbling because it's dedicated to the memory of Gerard Sekoto who was of course one of the early black pioneers of visual arts in South Africa.”

Art in South Africa is something that at times can be overlooked, but Absa and its partners, through Absa L’Atelier and working with creatives such as Phoka Nyokong give hope to other artists who aspire to share their passion for the arts.