Lindokuhle Sobekwa named inaugural Kobal Fellow

South African recognized for "an outstanding body of lens-based work."

Portrait of photographer, Lindokuhle Sobekwa, by Refilwe Mrwebi. 2018. ©

Lindokuhle Sobekwa is the recipient of a major new £50,000 prize, the John Kobal Foundation Fellowship.

Given every two years to “an artist or collective who… has established an outstanding body of lens-based work,” the Fellowship was set up “to enable an artist to move their practice forward in a way they would not otherwise be able to.”

The Foundation is collaborating with Tate Modern in London to present a series of accompanying annual lectures. The program begins with Sobekwa, who becomes the first Kobal Fellow. The 28-year-old South African photographer will travel to London to give his lecture at Tate Modern’s Starr Cinema on the evening of March 30.

A gardener who lives at work in Daleside, a once affluent Afrikaner community in the South of Johannesburg, South Africa, 2016 © Lindokuhle Sobewka/Magnum Photos. ©

The Foundation has a long history of association with photography, and has been especially generous in its focus on young or emerging talent.

Set up by John Kobal, an entrepreneur and historian who built a huge business around collecting movie stills and memorabilia, and who published 30 books on Hollywood iconography, the Foundation came into being after his death in 1991. One of its first achievements was realizing his ambition to establish an international portrait photography prize, which ran for a decade, and continues in transmuted form as the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize. The Foundation has also supported dozens of individuals, institutions and initiatives with grants and awards.

The Fellowship marks a significant advance in our commitment to working with contemporary artists and is aimed at enabling a lens-based artist to work on projects that might otherwise not have been possible,” say Liz Jobey, a writer and editor specializing in photography and Michael Mack, co-Chairs of the Foundation. “We congratulate our inaugural Fellow, Lindokuhle Sobekw,a and look forward to working with him over the next two years.”

Both Chairs are on the Fellowship selection committee, alongside Emma Bowkett of FT Weekend Magazine, writer and curator David Campany, gallery owner Michael Hoppen, Shoair Mavlian, director of The Photographers’ Gallery, and Alvin Li and Yasufumi Nakamori, both curators at Tate galleries.

“The John Kobal Foundation Fellowship is not a traditional art prize linked to the production, completion or exhibition of a body of work but is intended to offer financial support to enable an artist to move their practice forward in a way they would not otherwise be able to,” say the organizers in a statement. “The Fellowship is intended to be a transformative opportunity and to offer financial support to enable an artist to move their practice forward in a way they would not otherwise be able to.”

The announcement follows the sale of a major part of the Foundation’s collection of vintage prints to the Hood Museum of Art, part of Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, in the US. The Foundations says that it plans to invest part of the proceeds from the sale in a new artists’ endowment.

I carry Her photo with Me. Thokoza, Johannesburg, South Africa © Lindokuhle Sobewka/Magnum Photos. ©

Sobekwa was introduced to photography little more than a decade ago through the Of Soul and Joy project in Buhlebuzile high school in Thokoza township, where his photography mentors included Bieke Depoorter, now a fellow member of Magnum.

Following some early successes in his burgeoning career as a photographer, he received a scholarship at the renowned Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg. In 2017, he was selected by the Magnum Foundation for Photography and Social Justice to develop the project, I Carry Her Photo With Me, and in 2018, he received the Magnum Foundation Fund to continue with his longterm project, Nyaope, joining Magnum Photos as a nominee the same year. He became a full-time member in 2022.

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