Of Soul and Joy in Thokoza, Johannesburg, is a project that seeks to empower young adults through a camera lens. With photography, the self-guided programme teaches participants how to communicate through imagery, providing them with a platform to develop not only technical skills and critique, but a space in which to share ideas and narrate their personal histories. Through collaboration and mentorship, students are transformedinto visual storytellers.
The project was founded in 2012 as a community initiative to use art as a medium to tell distinctive, personal stories about Thokoza and the people who live there, a continuation of South Africa’s epic history of using the camera to document its living and past histories.
Project Manager and Mentor, Jabulani Dhlamini, says the project allows participants to create their own narratives about their identities. Speaking of his own career path, Dhlamini says, “I really enjoyed the conversation that starts because of a camera.” It’s with this idea that students are guided to create conversation in collaboration with narrators.
Dhlamini, a photographer formally represented by South Africa’s Goodman Gallery, can relate to this process. In 2011, Dhlamini was awarded the annual Edward Ruiz mentorship, which assists promising young photographers in developing a substantial body of work under the mentorship of a professional photographer. With the guidance of renowned photographer Jodi Bieber, this culminated in the exhibition of his project uMama at the Market Photo Workshop Gallery. uMama is a tribute to women raising children on their own in South Africans townships. Participants attend the after-school program and meet on Saturdays to develop practical skills and execute individual projects. “The aim is to give our students skills to work on a project in a short period of time, which is needed when given an assignment by companies as a photographer. With the workshops, we also create awareness about the project and hope to build relationships between our students and professionals.”
By the end of the program, students have started the professionalisation process with gallery exhibitions and, afterwards, they are enabled with bursaries to continue their studies at an institution of their choosing. Of Soul and Joy is a long term project – students never really leave. After further training and gaining valuable work experience, the students become mentors, and the cycle begins again.
Of Soul and Joy is also a fundamental project; beyond providing joy and empowerment, it provides a future for its students. Through photography, students can become both artists and business people, equipped to cultivate careers, to provide for themselves and their families, thus altering the trajectory of South African youth. Dhlamini has many wishes for his students, “There are a lot of things I hope that they achieve, amongst them financial stability,” he says. But more than that, he hopes that they will “tell their own stories in the most authentic way possible.” “I hope they celebrate and embrace who and whose they are,” says Dhlamini, “and also to collaborate in a process of decolonising the use of photography in South Africa and Africa at large.”
An article by Bianca Monet
Featured image : Lindokuhle Sobekwa, “Daleside”, 2017 ©Lindokuhle Sobekwa – Magnum Photo – Rubis Mécénat.
→ Instagram: @ofsoulandjoy_photoproject
This article was written for The Art Momentum | Cape Town Art Fair Artpaper 2020.
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