Santu Mofokeng (1956 - 2020)

Santu Amsterdam

The Prince Claus Fund was greatly saddened by news of the death of Santu Mofokeng, Prince Claus Laureate in 2009. Santu Mofokeng (1956) was a highly perceptive and significant South African photographer who understood the power of visual representation. 

As a young black photographer he took great risks in documenting the anti-apartheid struggle. Working for the Oral History Project of African Studies Institute at Witwatersrand University, he defied standard stereotypes with a rigorous truth, capturing people’s daily lives at home, in the streets, in shebeens.

He wrote “Apartheid was a roof. And under this roof life was difficult, many aspects of life were concealed, proscribed. People tried to live their lives in dignity but their joy was tainted with guilt and defiance.”

His work explored the relationship between environment, psychology and identity, taking him beyond the torture cells and industrial landscapes of South Africa to sites of massacres and concentration camps in Europe and Asia.

In the 2010 solo exhibition in the Prince Claus Gallery entitled ‘Let’s talk,’ Mofokeng focused on issues of ecology, ownership and power. In the spring of 2019 FOAM, the photo museum of Amsterdam, held a retrospective featuring his visual essays on the political history of South Africa.

The Prince Claus Fund Awards Committee honoured Santu Mofokeng for the “outstanding quality and content of his work, for his acute insight into cultural meanings in landscapes, and for his significant contribution to photography in Africa.” In a statement, his family says “his legacy is being incorporated in photography research and development programmes...He therefore has left all of us with a valued modern heritage in the arts and culture sector.”

He will be sorely missed.

Photos: From the Prince Claus Fund Archive. Santu Mofokeng with Els van der Plas, former director of the Prince Claus Fund, at the exhibition 'Let's Talk' in Amsterdam.

Els and Santu two