Closed Constructions

 Exhibition, public programme and archive on migrant labour hostels in Gauteng

Closed Constructions is a photographic exhibition and public programme on contemporary life and the heritage of government hostels and compounds in Gauteng. It is a unique body of work dealing with the architecture of apartheid as represented in the single sex housing structures that were built by Gauteng's municipalities since the turn of the 19th century to segregate male and female migrant workers from township communities and residential areas reserved for whites.
Closed Constructions Exhibition

-opening 15th October 2011-
The Closed Constructions exhibition explores the hostel system in over 350 images through the lenses of over 35 photographers. A remarkable body of oral history interviews with residents who lived in the hostels since the 1950s round up the comprehensive visual narrative. It is a story of enclosure and exclusion. It is a story of survival in inhumane housing conditions and of generations struggling with family disintegration and poverty. The exhibition documents over 70 government hostels, which are still inhabited by thousands of men, women and children. The exhibition offers three chapters, namely “Architectures of Exclusion”, “Hostels to Homes?” and “Ubambiswano Lwabashuti”, which all provide various perspectives on life in Gauteng's government hostels. It will be launched at the Workers Museum on 15h of October 2011 at 13:00 hours and will run until 15th of January 2012.

Architectures of Exclusion”

Under the theme “Architectures of Exclusion’’ the exhibition closely examines the physical heritage of single-sex housing. In a comprehensive photographic documentary project, a body of more than 8000 photographs is being produced to preserve a visual archive of the slowly changing and increasingly deteriorating architecture of municipal compounds and public hostels in Gauteng's townships and industrial centres.
While documenting the large hostel schemes of Soweto, the East- and West Rand, Sebokeng or Saulsville, photographers also went to smaller sites, which are mostly hidden in the urban geography still being enclosed by walls and limited in their public access. By applying a comparative approach in the photography, the project seeks to bring out the political and economic strategies that informed their establishment over a period of 100 years.
“Architectures of Exclusion” also gives evidence of residents' creative strategies of survival in these relicts of apartheid since the dawn of democracy. Municipal beer halls have been turned into informal housing, community halls now provide space for childcare facilities or serve as permanent churches, and administration blocks are no longer centres of control but are vacant or being used as sleeping quarters.
Hostels to Homes?”
Under the subtitle “From Hostels to Homes?” the exhibition portrays the life of hostel residents around Johannesburg, Soweto and Alexandra. The photographs and life history interviews allow a very personal view on the challenges and aspirations of men, women and children who constitute the current hostel population. The oral testimonies and photographic essays were produced by students as part of a capacity building programme to show that hostel and compound life is still a reality for thousands of working class families. A unique feature of this chapter is its particular focus on hostels for women, single sex housing structures for migrants that have received little public attention before.
Ubambiswano Lwabashuti”
Under the chapter “Ubambiswano Lwabashuti” (meaning “Photographers holding together”) 15 photographers who live and work in and around hostels in Gauteng showcase their work for the first time as a joint collective at a museum. Their works take the viewer right inside as much as outside hostel boundaries. It is evidence of the social and cultural practice of a diverse range of communities and includes studio, event as well as landscape photography. The group of photographers first met in 2009 through the Closed Constructions’ capacity building programme and are now forming a workers' cooperative.
Closed Constructions Projects &Partners
Closed Constructions was initiated by Khanya College in 2008 as a memory and heritage project with a strong focus on capacity building for young photographers, oral history researchers and hostel residents. It has been implemented in cooperation with the Market Photo Workshop and the History Department of Wits University, and has over a period of three years, produced a vast collection of photographic images and a smaller collection of oral history interviews. The outcomes of the project will be showcased in an exhibition, public educational programmes as well as an online archive on the heritage of hostel housing in Gauteng.
We would like to thank the following donors for their generous support of the Closed Constructions Exhibition and public programmes: