When artist Terry Kurgan landed a commission in Yeoville, a suburb on the eastern edge of Johannesburg, South Africa, she was struck by the discrepancy between the popular image of Yeoville’s immigrants and the way she knew them to be. Popular media depicted them as abject, poor, and resourceless; Kurgan found them intelligent, creative, and resourceful. Determined to challenge this stereotype without perpetuating the unequal power relation between photographer and subject, Kurgan worked with researchers, designers, and community members to develop a safe space where people felt welcome to express themselves.
The Hotel Yeoville project included a series of private booths at a public library, where people could take photographs, tell stories, make videos, map their travels across Africa, and more. The results are published on a community website and in this book, which includes images and texts generated by project participants, as well as essays by Kurgan and contributors. Each essay illuminates some aspect of the project, including its conception, installation, and development.
Most compelling are the photos submitted by the people of Yeoville: friends laughing together, individuals alternately serious and silly, and always set against a bright pink background that lends a cheerful atmosphere. The photos put a collective face onto the ideas and theories expressed by Kurgan and her collaborators.
The community members all gained something from their involvement in the Hotel Yeoville project. Many found jobs, accommodations, customers, and/or employees through the Directory Booth, a free online classifieds and directory resource. Others joined discussion forums, checked the news from their home country, shared personal stories of love and tragedy, and/or just had fun taking photos with their friends. But no matter how people chose to interact with the project, they left behind the images and stories you see in this book, all working to rewrite popular depictions of South African immigrants.