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SA photographer Sibusiso Bheka out to make a name for himself in Paris



Bheka is a former student of the social and artistic mentorship programme Of Soul and Joy (OSJ) in Thokoza.

Photographer Sibusiso Bheka has begun his three month residency with the renowned Cité internationale des arts programme in Paris, France, and the lens man from Thokoza is still coming to terms with being in the European country.

“Honestly, I still can’t believe it because there were a lot of people who applied for the very same opportunity. I couldn’t believe it… the day I believe it is the day I actually get to Paris,” Bheka told The Citizen.

The 27 year-old said being in the European country is still unfathomable.

It feels unreal, it hasn’t clicked that much because I’m always discovering new places, going to new spaces I’ve seen on the internet,” he said.

The subject of Bheka’s residency will be an ongoing photography project which explores his childhood memories through the intersection of cinema, photography, and personal narrative.

“Paris holds a unique relationship with cinema that intrigues me. I want to explore that connection between the cinematic realm and the tangible reality of the city.”

The project involves pairing scenes of daily life with iconic cult movie captions to create new narratives. This approach mirrors his childhood experiences, where visual perception held greater significance than cognitive processing.

Bheka is a former student of the social and artistic mentorship programme Of Soul and Joy (OSJ) in Thokoza.

The programme is dedicated to empowering young South Africans through creativity. It provided Bheka a pathway to studying photography which has led to him producing award-winning work recognised across several global photography platforms.

“We are extremely proud of Sibusio’s artistic journey,” said Jabulani Dhlamini, project manager at OSJ. “This residency is an opportunity for him to continue sharing his talent with the world and to actively contribute to the international art stage.”

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Life in Paris

The Cité internationale des arts is an artist-in-residence complex which accommodates artists of all specialties and nationalities in Paris.

In partnership with 135 French and international organisations, the Cité’s two complementary sites welcome more than 300 artists from a wide range of disciplines for residencies lasting up to one year.

Cité des arts also provides residents with assistance and support throughout their stay, and exposes artists to a network of contacts in Paris and wider France.

Bheka’s body of work represents the essence of his community, challenging the preconceived ideas traditionally associated with informal settlements and placing a spotlight on his lived experiences.

“I wanted to specifically come to Paris to continue with my body of work because Paris is like a city of cinema. The invention of cinema started in Paris; they have these huge museums and institutions dedicated to cinema. It has this sort of bubble around it where everything seems very nice, everyone uses Paris as a backdrop of their stories.”

The photographer from Ekurhuleni said he took a stroll on his first day in the city and came across a film crew shooting what he was told was an American movie.

“They couldn’t allow me to go in there… but it sort of reinforced the idea of why I wanted to actually come here.”

Bheka came across a museum that’s dedicated to film and cinema. It pays homage to director James Cameron, who made films such as TitanicThe Terminator and Avatar.

“In my artistic statement I speak on the movie The Terminator, it’s one of the movies I wanted to go see in my childhood but because of a lack of cinema in the township, I couldn’t see the movie. We were always seeing trailers when going to DVD stores. I only got to watch it later on in life thanks to,” said Bheka chuckling.

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Speaking French

Bheka said his first day of the residency didn’t involve much work. “They introduced me to staff here, and they showed me around. The traffic is very crazy here, I’m in the centre of Paris,” said the photographer.

France’s history of colonisation in Africa is palpable for Bheka to see as he says there are a lot of Africans in Paris. “There’s a lot of black people around, often more than not people come to me and speak French to me and they’re surprised that I don’t speak French,” he said.

He is puzzled by the French onslaught.  “Why do people speak French to me, can’t they see I’m black, maybe speak English or something like that,” he said jokingly.

“There is that pressure, that you’re in Paris and you need to deliver. It’s my first time but I don’t want it to be my last time.

“It’s my first time being in a residency that’s this long. The other residency I’ve been with in Amsterdam was two weeks, and you can’t do much in two weeks. Also, there’s a lot happening in this city… now I’m still battling how I sort out my schedule.”

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