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Wednesday, March 3, 2021


(“No Defence Only a Burnt Fence.” – Deseni Soobben, Newlands, Durban, 1986.

Durban photographer and journalism lecturer Deseni Soobben will exhibit three of her photographic works at the Tate Modern, alongside famed South African photographer Zanele Muholi in March this year. The chosen photographs mark a dark time in Durban’s history and showcase the forced removals that occurred in Durban in 1986.

Soobben first took up photography at the age of 10, when her grandfather gave her an Instamatic camera after returning from a business trip in Japan. Finding inspiration through the lens, she went on to study photography at the Natal Technikon (now th Durban University of Technology) and would often take photographs of the soccer games at the famous Curries Fountain.

Her photography soon, however, took a more political turn when she joined the Afrapix agency, and she began documenting civil protest, the emergence of the UDF, trade union gatherings, the end conscription campaign, and political violence. Afrapix was a photography collective that sought to document the struggle. Through their social documentation, the group challenged the role of the photographer as a witness to events, by establishing underground political organisations that formed part of the resistance arts movement. They believed in using their skills as photographers to bring about change within the country and became leading proponents of what became known as struggle photography.

(Afrapix, Cultural Calendar, 1989)

Soobben then went on to work for the city press, alongside acclaimed author Fred Khumalo and has been teaching journalism at the Durban University of Technology since 1995. 

Her focus areas include representations of women in the media, and culture and gender. Of the opportunity to showcase her important work at this prestigious institution, Soobben shared:

“As a photographer, I am thrilled. I have visited Tate London twice in the last 10 years, more recently in 2015 and did not dream of exhibiting at this most prestigious art institution.