Johannes Phokela (b. 1966, Soweto) is a South African artist currently living and working in Johannesburg. Phokela began his formal art career in 1984 at the Federated Union of Black Artists (FUBA) Academy in Johannesburg, where he obtained a three-year diploma. In 1987, he relocated to London, where he completed a year-long foundation course at Central St. Martins: University of the Arts London before acquiring a bachelor’s degree at Camberwell College of Art: University of the Arts London (1988). He then completed a master’s degree at the Royal College of Art (1993) and remained in London until his permanent return to South Africa in 2006.
Phokela has established a distinguished career both locally and internationally. He played an advisory role in establishing The Bag Factory, Johannesburg (1990) and was awarded the prestigious year-long residency at Delfina Studio Trust, London (1993). He was also one of the founding members of the Gasworks Studios, London (1994 – 2005), producing studio work as well as participating in the International Residency Programme. This inspired him to do volunteer work for The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1995 and led to his participation in a residency programme in Senegal through the British Council (1997). He is also a recipient of the Decibel Award from the Arts Council of England (2004).
Phokela’s prominent solo shows include an international touring exhibition commissioned by the Institute of International Visual Arts (INIVA) in collaboration with The Gallery, Cafe Gallery Projects, London (2002); Age of Enlightenment, Gallery MOMO, Johannesburg (2003); Landlord of the Lion, Stephen Lawrence Gallery, London (2005); Imagine Where You’ll Be, Gallery MOMO, Johannesburg (2005); Translation, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg (2006); Compendium, KwaZulu Natal Society of Arts, Durban (2007); I Love My Neighbours, a notable retrospective at the Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg (2009); Collateral, Oliewenhuis Art Museum, Bloemfontein (2012); and A World Sacred and Profane, Gallery AOP, Johannesburg (2015), in addition to many others.
He has participated in numerous notable group exhibitions such as the critically acclaimed 2nd Johannesburg Biennale titled Trade Routes: History and Geography, Johannesburg (1997); Unpacking Europe, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (2001); Figure of, Battersea Pump House, London (2001); Personal Effects, Museum for African Art and The Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York (2004); Tremor, Palais des Beaux-Arts de Charleroi, Brussels (2004); Erase Me From Who I Am: Elvieda Quin Soy, Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Las Palmas (2006); Body of Evidence, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C. (2006); New Painting at the KwaZulu Natal Society of Arts in Durban, UNISA Art Gallery in Pretoria and Johannesburg Art Gallery in Johannesburg (2006); and Still (the) Barbarians, EVA Limerick Open, Limerick, (2016).
Phokela was represented in the South African Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2013), and his work can be found internationally in the collections of the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Washington D.C.; in London at the Delfina Studio Trust; the London Arts Council Collection; and the South African High Commission. In South Africa, he is represented in the art holdings of BHP Billeton, Southern Collection, Scheryn Art Collection, Johannesburg Art Gallery and the Iziko South African National Gallery, amongst others.