Born in 1956, Mofokeng grew up in and around Soweto (Johannesburg), spending most of his childhood in Orlando East. Mofokeng’s initial experiences with photography were as a teen when one of his sisters gave him his first camera.He grew up in poverty and spent his school years at the Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto; one of the hotbeds of the violently suppressed Soweto uprising in 1976. While still a teenager, he began his career as a street photographer and went on to work as an assistant in a darkroom, and then became a news photographer. In 1985, Santu Mofokeng joined and formed part of the Afrapix Collective that engaged in exposé and documentary photography of anti-apartheid resistance and social conditions during the 1980s in South Africa. However, Mofokeng was an increasingly important internal critic of mainstream photojournalism, and of the ways black South Africans were represented in the bigger international picture economy during the political struggle.
Two years later, in 1987 he was appointed at the New Nation newspaper. From 1988 to 1998 he worked as a documentary photographer and researcher for the African Studies Institute’s Oral History Project, at the University of the Witwatersrand, and focused on producing images representing the lives of people in their homes and other aspects of daily life.
Mofokeng's interest is in the unconventional. A photographic enquiry into spirituality has continued throughout his career and produced the evocative series Chasing Shadows. His explorations of landscape invested with spiritual significance form part of a wider enquiry into space and belonging, the political meaning of landscape in relation to ownership, power and memory. His recent urban landscapes go beyond political and social commentary into meditations on ‘existential madness – the absurdities of living’.
Mofokeng resides and works in Johannesburg. He has taught photography at the Market Photo Workshop and at the University of the Witwatersrand. Between 1989 and 2010, Mofokeng has held over twenty solo exhibitions and has participated in numerous select group and collaborative exhibitions locally and around the world. Mofokeng has curated photography exhibitions in South Africa, France and Mali. Between 1990 and 2009 he has received numerous awards and fellowships for photography including the Ernest Cole Scholarship to study at the International Centre for Photography in New York.
He has won many awards and fellowships in Africa, the United States and Germany. Mofokeng has shared his vision and ideas at a number of seminars, symposiums and panel discussions around the world; he has been the instigator of and collaborator with many photographic showcases.
- 1990: Like Shifting Sand, Market Galleries, Johannesburg
- 1994: Rumours / The Bloemhof Portfolio, Market Galleries, Johannesburg
- 1995: Distorting Mirror/Townships Imagined, Worker's Library, Johannesburg
- 1997: Chasing Shadows – Gertrude Posel Gallery, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
- 1998: Black Photo Album/Look at Me, Netherlands Photo Institute, Rotterdam
- 1998: Chasing Shadows, Netherlands Photo Institute, Rotterdam
- 1998: Lunarscapes, Netherlands Photo Institute, Rotterdam
- 1999: Black Photo Album/Look at Me, FNAC Montparnasse
- 2000: Chasing Shadows, Transparencies International, Berlin
- 2000: Sad Landscapes, Camouflage Gallery, Johannesburg
- 2003: Chasing Shadows, Memling Museum, Bruges
- 2004: Rethinking Landscape, Centre photographique d'Ile-de-France (CPIF), Pontault-Combault
- 2004: Santu Mofokeng, David Krut Projects, New York City
- 2004: Santu Mofokeng, Gallery MOMO, Johannesburg
- 2006: Invoice Iziko, South African National Art Museum, Cape Town
- 2007: Invoice, Standard Bank Art Museum, Johannesburg
- 2008: Homeland Security, Johannesburg Art Museum
- 2008: Santu Mofokeng's Landscape, Warren Siebrits, Johannesburg
- 2009: Mofokeng survey exhibition, Autograph ABP, London
- 2010: Chasing Shadows, Anne Arbor Institute of Humanities, Michigan
- 2010: Let's Talk, Arts on Main, Johannesburg
- 2010: Remaining Past, Minshar Art Institute, Tel Aviv
- 2011–12: Chasing Shadows, Paris, Bern, Bergen, Antwerp
- 2016: Santu Mofokeng. A Silent Solitude. Fondazione Fotografia Modena, Modena Foro Boario, Italy
- 1989: "Black Sash Human Rights Exhibition" - Market Galleries, Johannesburg, S.A.
- 1990: "Zabalaza Cultural Festival" - London, United Kingdom.
- 1990:"History Workshop Open Day Festival" - University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa.
- 1990: "Women's Exhibition" Malibongwe Women's Conference - Amsterdam, Holland.
- 1990: "Going Home" with Paul Weinberg - Canon Image Centre, Amsterdam, Holland.
- 1991: "AA Vita ‘Art Now '" - Johannesburg Art Gallery, South Africa.
- 1990: "Tenant Labourers" - N.G.B.K., Berlin, Germany.
- 1993: "FNAC - Mother Jones Award winners 1992" - Light Factory Gallery, North Carolina United States of America.
- 1993: "Happy Sad Land", Herten Fotofestival - Herten, Germany, 1993
- 1993: "Montage 1993 - International Festival of the Image" Rochester, New York.
- 1993: USA "In Transit" - New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, USA.
- 1994: "Recontre de la Photographie Africaine" - Bamako, Mali.
- 1994: "This Land is our Land" - Market Galleries, Johannesburg, South Africa.
- 1995: "Panoramas of Passage" - Standard Bank National Festival of the Arts, Grahamstown, South Africa.
- 1995: "Assises de l'Afrique au Siege de l'Unesco" - Paris, France.
- 1995: "South African Photography" with Peter Magubane, Institut Fur Auslandsbeziehungen Gallery, Bonn, Germany.
- 1995: "Transitions: Contemporary Art from South Africa" F-Stop Gallery, Bath, U.K.
- 1995: "The Third International Photographic Biennale", Tenerife, Canary Islands.
- 1996: "In/Sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present", Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA.
- 1996: "Images of Africa Festival" - Copenhagen, Denmark, 1996
- 1996: "Standard Bank National Festival of the Arts" Grahamstown, South Africa, 1996"Colors - Contemporary Art from South Africa", Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt, Berlin, Germany.
- 1997: "3rd Recontres de la Photographie Africaine" - Bamako, Mali.
- "Dreams and Clouds" KultuurHuset, Stockholm, Sweden, 1997 "Democracy's Images" - Bild Museet, Umea, Sweden, 1997
- 1997: "FNB Vita Awards for visual Art", Sandton Gallery Johannesburg, South Africa.
- 1997: "2nd Johannesburg Biennale", Electric Workshop, Johannesburg. South Africa.
- 1998: "blank__ Architecture, apartheid and after " - Nederlands Architecture Institute Rotterdam, Holland.
- 1998: "Africa by Africa: A Photographic View" - Barbican Centre, London, UK, Ludwig Museum, Budapest, Hungary.
- 1999: A South Photographs collective exhibition, Area Gallery, Cape Town.
- 2000: Unplugged V, Market Galleries, Johannesburg.
- 2000: Man + Space, Gwanjiu Biennale, South Korea.
- 2000: Translation/Seduction/Displacement, White Box Gallery, New York; Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art, Portland.
- 2000: The Song of the Earth: Biennals in Dialogue, Museum Fridericianum, Kassel.
- 2000: Positions Attitudes Actions, 4th Foto Biennale Rotterdam
- 2000: L'etat des Choses, Kunst-Werke, Berlin.
- 2000: Rhizomes of Memory, Henie Onstad Kuntsenter, Oslo.
- 2001: The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945-1994, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich; Haus der Kulturen der Welt/Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin; MoMA PSI, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
- 2001: Africas: The Artist and the City, Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona.
- 2002: documenta 11, Kassel.
- 2002: 25th Bienal de Sao Paulo.
- 2002: Surviving Apartheid, Maison Europeene de la Photographie, Paris.
- 2002: Dislocation: Installations from SOuth Africa, Circulo de Bellas Artes, Madrid; Sala Rekalde, Bilbao.
- 2003: 5th Rencontres de la Photographie Africaine, Bamako
- 2003: 6th Sharjah International Biennal, U.A.E.
- 2004: Post! Contemporary South African Photography, Tama Art University Museum, Tokyo.
- 2004: Forbidden City International Photography Exhibition, Beijing.
- 2004: New Identities: Contemporary Art from South Africa, Museum Bochum, Germany; Johannesburg Art Gallery; Pretoria Art Museum, South Africa.
- 2004: Ralentir vite, le Plateau/Frac Ile-de-France, Paris.
- 2005: 10 Years, 100 Artists: Art in Democratic South Africa, Bell-Roberts Gallery, Cape Town.
- 2005-6: Unsettled, Durban Art Callery; Reykjavik Museum of Photography; Kristianstads Konsthall, Sweden; National Museum of Photography, Copenhagen.
- 2006: Exorcising Exorcism, COntemporary Art Exhibition, Taipei
- 2006: 1st Trienal de Luanda
- 2006: Black, Brown+ White, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna.
- 2004-2007: Afrika Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent, Museum Kunst Palast, Dusseldorf; Hayward Gallery, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paria; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; Johannesburg Art Gallery; Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
- 2007: 52nd Venice Biennale
- 2007: Climate Change, Ruth First Fellowship Award Conference, Atlas Studios. Johannesburg.
- 2007: Apartheid: The South African Mirror, Centre de Cultura, Contemporania de Barcelona
- 2007: Reality Check: Zeitgenossische Fotokunst aus Sudafrika , Neue Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin; Kunstmuseum Bochum; Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz; Galerie der Stadt Sindelfingen, Germany; Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town.
- 2008: Home Lands - Land Marks: Contemporary Art from South Africa, Haunch of Venison, London.
- 2008: Rationalism of Nationalism, Warren Siebrits, Johannesburg.
- 2009:The Symbolic Efficiency of the Frame, T.IC.A.B. - Tirana International Contemporary Art Biannual, Albania.
- 2009: Urban Reflections, Stills Scotland's Centre for Photography, Edinburgh.
- 2010: Darkroom: Photography and New Media in South Africa since 1950. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.
- 2010: Animism, Extra City/M HKA, Antwerp; Kunsthalle Bern; Generali Foundation, Vienna.
- 2010: Apartheid - Widerstand - Freiheit: Sudafrikanische Fotografie 1950-2010. Willy-Brandt-Haus, Berlin.
- 2011: Figures & Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
- 2011: Events of the Self Portraiture and Social Identity, The Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm.
- 'Train Church'. From South Africa· New Writing, Photographs and Art. Special issue of TriQuarterly 69 (Spring/Summer 1987).
- w/Paul Weinberg 'Going Home: The Views of Paul Weinberg and Santu Mofokeng’. Staffrider 8, no. 2, (1989), pp. 54-65.
- w/Paul Weinberg 'Going Home: The Views of Paul Weinberg and Santu Mofokeng. Full Frame 1, no. 1 (1990), pp. 24-29.
- ‘Going Home’. Leadership S.A. 9, no. 2 (1990).
- ‘Labour Tenants'. Staffrider 9, no. 3 (1991), pp. 51-54.
- ‘Chasing Shadows’. Camera Austria International 56 (1996) pp. 59-64.
- ‘The Black Photo Album/Look at Me: l890-l900s'. Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art 4 (Spring 1996), pp. 54-57.
- The Black Photo Album'. In Anthology of African and Indian Ocean Photography. Ed. Pascal Martin Saint Leon et al. Paris: Revue Noire 1998, pp. 68-75. '
- 'Appropriated Spaces'. In Blank: Architecture, Apartheid and After. Ed. Hilton Judin and Ivan Vladislavic. Exhib. cat. Netherlands Architecture Institute. Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 1998.
- 'Trajectory of a Street Photographer'. In Anthology of African and Indian Ocean Photography. Ed. Pascal Martin Saint Leon et al. Paris: Revue Noire, 1998, pp. 264-71.
- 'Trajectory of a Street Photographer: South Africa 1973-1978'. In Democracy's Images: Photography and Visual Art after Apartheid. Ed. Jan Erik Lundstrom. Exhib. cat. BildMuseet. Umea: BildMuseet, 1999, pp. 42-45.
- 'Nightfall of the Spirit'. In Translation/Seduction/Displacement: PostConceptual and Photographic Work by Artists from South Africa. Ed. Lauri Firstenberg and John Peffer. Exhib. cat. Institute of Contemporary Art. Portland: Maine College of Art, 2000.
- 'Chasing Shadows'. In Santu Mofokeng, David Goldblatt and George Hallett. Rhizomes of Memory. Exhib. cat. Henie Onstad Kunstsenter. Oslo: Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, 2000, pp. 80-116.
- 'Lampposts'. In Santu Mofokeng and Sam Raditlhalo. Taxi-004: Santu Mofokeng. Artist's Book. Johannesburg: David Krut Publishing, 2001.
- 'Rethinking Landscapes'. In Rites Sacres/Rites Profanes. Ed. Simon Njami. Exhib. Cat. 5th Rencontres de la Photographie Africaine, Bamako. Paris: AFAA, 2003.
- 'Township Billboards: Beauty, Sex and Cellphones’. In Sharjah: International Biennial 6. Ed. Hoor AI-Qasimi. Exhib. cat. Sharjah: Sharjah Biennial, 2003.
- 'Township Billboards: Beauty, Sex and Cellphones’. In New Identities: Contemporary Art from South Africa. Ed. Sepp Hiekisch-Picard and Hans Gunter Golinski. Exhib. cat· Museum Bochum. Otsfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2004.
- Schonstadt, Glucksort und so weiter - Fotographische Township Geschichten.' Klaus Stadtmuller et al., Alte Wunden – Neue Zeiten/Stimmen aus Sudafrika - 10 Jahre nach der Apartheid. Issue no. 215. Die Horen: Zeitschrift fur Literatur, Kunst and Kritik 49, no. 3 (2004).
- 'The Black Albums’. In The View from Africa. Granta 92. London: Granta Publications, 2005, pp. 215-32.
- 1990 - AA Vita Award Nomination for Like Shifting Sand, South Africa
- 1991: Ernest Cole Scholarship, for study at the International Center of Photography, in New York City
- 1992: 1st Mother Jones Award for Africa
- 1998: Künstlerhaus Worpswede Fellowship, Germany
- 1999: Contre Jour Residency, Marseille, France
- 1999: DAAD Fellowship, Worpswede, Germany
- 2001: DAAD Fellowship, Worpswede, Germany
- 2007: Ruth First Fellowship, South Africa
- 2009: Prince Claus Award, Netherlands
- 2016: International Photography Prize, Fondazione Fotografia Modena – Sky Arte, Italy
- 2016: Honorary Doctorate from Wits University
2011 - "Chasing Shadows, Santu Mofokeng, Thirty Years of Photographic Essays" (monograph), Prestel Verlag, Munich, Germany
2012 - "Graves" Steidl, Germany
2013 - "Santu Mofokeng: The Black Photo Album/Look at me 1890-1950", Steidl, Germany
Publications featuring Santu Mofokeng's work:
Beyond the Barricades, 1989
Taxi-044: Santu Mofokeng David Krut Publishing; First Edition edition (June 2001)
Violence in a Time of Liberation: Murder and Ethnicity at a South African Gold Mine, 1994, Duke University Press Books, 2011
Figures and Fictions: Contemporary South African Photography. Göttingen: Steidl; London, 2011