LOCATION: Block A ,Thokoza Womens Hostel by Angela Buckland
26 July - 20 August 2011.
Thokoza Women's hostel was the first African women's hostel built in 1925 in South Africa.This new work is the sister version of a previous work completed in 2002, the oldest men's hostel in Durban, Block A, Jacobs Men's Hostel. I have been drawn to these environments because of their unnatural and complex histories. I am interested by detail, emblematic of a universal need to humanise space. I have photographed each and every resident's bed or some artefact in their bed space. The photographic strategy adopted for both artworks was to take one frame within a couple of seconds and record a trace that marks some form of humanity.
Thokoza residents live in small rooms, originally designed to accommodate three beds; sometimes additional people sleep on the floor (there is no trace of their presence during the day), these are young women waiting to inherit a bed. Each room is compact and demanding to accommodate easch residents belongings: beds, suitcases, stoves, groceries, fridges, TV's, wash lines, lockers and clothes. Understandably, close living like this requires discipline and respect between women, but often crammed rooms yield tension, especially between young and elderly. There is also hierarchy, often the resident who has lived in the room the longest gets the bed next to the window.
Block A, Thokoza Women's Hostel offers a recording of life in a contemporary African city from a perspective seldom given voice or view - that of poor and working women who are living outside the usual contexts of family and tradition. Thokoza Women's Hotel remains the most densely inhabited residential site in Durban. Consisting of small bedrooms stacked four storeys high around a courtyard and ablution facilities, Thokoza is crowded with African women seeking independence from the pervading male dominated society.
Hostels were initially established to ‘temporarily' house a conveniently located pool of cheap black labour in urban areas when permanent residence for blacks was prohibited by the Group Areas Act. Built as single sex accommodation, the hostels were no better than barracks with dormitories and shared facilities. Since the first democratic elections in 1994 there have been initiatives to replace hostels because they were a symbol of the past and also the scene of political manipulation. However, despite attempts by city authorities at upgrading, hostels remain essentially under-serviced and cramped.
These women are domestic servants, street traders, students, bead artists, washer-women, office workers and pensioners. They enter off the street through a single, controlled entrance leading into the secured surroundings. Temporary visitors hire wooden pallets to sleep on for a few cents an evening. They lie down in the courtyard, under the clothes lines or along corridors; wherever there is a space, wanting to apply for permanent status. After waiting for months for vacancies to occur they move into a dormitory and eventually onto the floor of one of the bedrooms. From there they eventually get allocated one of the three beds in the room and pay a monthly rental.
From these limitations or opportunities, lives are built, dignity is maintained, incomes are generated and a unique communal order created that quietly and steadily prevails. In the context of huge urban housing backlogs, and the unserviced or underserviced informal settlements on the urban periphery, hostels are often relatively well located; cheap; secure, and supplied with service utilities. Security measures may seem draconian in that the residents are essentially locked in at night, but the trade-off is that these women are safe, and in many ways, are living on their own terms. Beyond planning policies, beyond cultural traditions of land tenure that emphatically restricted social and physical mobility of women, here is a new place of contemporary, female, urbanity.