Johannes Phokela’s practice teeters on the threshold between tradition and modernity. Pointed critique aplenty, his works correspond internally and thus, in Phokela’s view, create a contemporary idiom of Africanism. A seminal work of his, Exciting Recipes, bases its aesthetic premise on a magazine photograph from the 1980s depicting a group gathered around a stereotypically ‘white’ braaivleis (a South African open-fire technique for grilling meat). Phokela inserts Black figures into the scene, as a disruption of the culinary tradition’s cultural cliche. A violence also manifests in the suspended animal carcass, that while resigned to the shadows, points to darker concerns.
After three years of studying at the FUBA Academy in Soweto, South Africa, Phokela relocated to the UK to obtain a masters degree in fine arts at the Royal College of Art in London, UK, in 1993. The recipient of numerous important international awards, he was honoured in South Africa with a major retrospective at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg, in 2009.