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2023 Stellenbosch Outdoor Photography Exhibition Student Competition


The 2023 Stellenbosch Outdoor Photography Exhibition, ‘Freedom, I dream up for myself and others', featured era-defining works by top-tier masters of photography. It was presented by the Stellenbosch Triennale and proud patron Private Clients by Old Mutual South Africa, curated by Under The Aegis and Anelisa Mangcu. 


The exhibition featured large-scale photographs by eight acclaimed photographers from South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, and Zimbabwe. These photographers include:


  • Berni Searle (South Africa): Known for her evocative and often unsettling portraits, Searle's work delves into themes of identity, memory, and belonging.

  • David Goldblatt (South Africa): A master of social documentary photography, Goldblatt's work has captured the complexities of South African life for over 50 years

  • James Barnor (Ghana): A pioneer of Ghanaian studio photography, Barnor's vibrant portraits offer a glimpse into the lives and aspirations of ordinary people.

  • Roger Ballen (South Africa): Ballen's surreal and unsettling photographs explore the darker side of human nature and the boundaries between reality and imagination.

  • Akinbode Akinbiyi (British Nigerian): Akinbiyi's work explores themes of migration, displacement, and the African diaspora.

  • Calvin Dondo (Zimbabwe): Dondo's photographs capture the beauty and resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

  • Obie Oberholzer (South Africa): Oberholzer's work documents the social and cultural landscape of South Africa, often with a focus on marginalised communities.

  • Malick Sidibé (Mali): Sidibé's iconic studio portraits capture the elegance and joie de vivre of Malian society.


In addition to the main exhibition, SOPE also hosted a variety of educational programs and events, including workshops, talks, and film screenings. These programs provided opportunities for emerging photographers and the public to engage with the work on display and learn more about the art of photography.



One of the other exciting aspects of SOPE 2023 was the accompanying student photography competition

The Stellenbosch Outdoor Photography Exhibition Student Competition asked participants to centre their projects around the themes 'The Alchemy' and 'Freedom I dream up for myself and others'. These two themes gave the individual an opportunity to select a theme that inspired and spoke to them, and then visually explore it in a myriad of ways.


Entrants were asked to show us a story through 5 images where the theme/s were the focal point. Images could be taken on any device and shot in any style – be black & white or colour – and approached from any angle they felt best. Each of the visual submissions was to be entered with a creative rationale of 300 words, no entry fee was required, and proof of registration to either University of Stellenbosch or Stellenbosch Academy of Design and Photography was required.


The Competition closed at the beginning of October 2023 and all entries were reviewed by an esteemed panel of judges.



Three finalists were shortlisted and have been given the opportunity to exhibit their selected works as part of the Stellenbosch Outdoor Photography Exhibition curated by Anelisa Mangcu​. The finalists included:




About the work


Thapelo Mahlangu explored 'The Alchemy' through the storyline of 'My Body Being My Home'. This series of self-portraits stood as a journey of self-discovery and the realisation that our physical and emotional homes are intricately connected to our inner selves. 


Artist’s statement


“With this series of self-portraits, I explore the theme “The Alchemy” of My Body Being My Home. It explores a personal journey of self-discovery and the realisation that our physical and emotional homes are intricately connected to our inner selves, this revealed to me that true home is found within one’s own body. 


“Growing up in the townships, my parents' house was my sanctuary, my initial concept of home, while city life revealed the adaptability of the concept of home navigating a new environment and relationships. Later, my studies led me to the coastal region, another shift in my sense of place, by recognizing the alchemical transformation within myself. I realised that regardless of the external surroundings the key to creating a home lies within oneself,” says Thapelo Mahlangu.


“Through this theme, I aim to convey the idea that our bodies are the ultimate vessel for experiencing the alchemy of life. They are the constant in a world of ever-changing landscapes and surroundings. Our bodies encapsulate our memories, experiences, and emotions, turning each space we occupy into a unique part of our personal journey. This theme invites viewers to contemplate the significance of inner peace and self-acceptance in the creation of a home, wherever life may take us.”



The Student Exhibition is currently under construction and will open in January 2024.

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