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Welcome to Hotel Yeoville
20 April 2010

Hotel Yeoville documents residents's stories

Tens of thousands of people have made Yeoville their home, most of them migrants from across Africa. Hotel Yeoville is a uniting force in the community.

RESIDENTS of Yeoville and Bellevue - most of them migrants from other African countries and rural South Africa - can document their stories, meet other immigrants and exchange ideas and information online using an interactive digital art project.

Residents are able to write their stories on the Hotel Yeoville website
Residents are able to write their stories on the Hotel Yeoville website

Based at the new Yeoville Library in Raleigh Street, Hotel Yeoville, as it is called, is a joint initiative of Terry Kurgan, an independent Joburg artist, and the Forced Migration Studies Programme (FMSP), a graduate programme at the University of the Witwatersrand.

According to Kurgan, the Hotel Yeoville project aims to address the themes of migration, the idiosyncrasies of the suburb and the threat of xenophobia by tapping into the vital role of the internet as a diasporic hub.

"The broadest objective of Hotel Yeoville is to produce a social map of an inner city neighbourhood that is home to a largely invisible community of migrants from all over the African continent," Kurgan explains, "and to do so using the medium of the internet and some of the form and language of contemporary social networking platforms."

Hotel Yeoville was opened to the public on Saturday, 1 March. Besides being an interactive art project, it also comprises an interactive community website, that was set up in 2008 to help residents of the eastern Joburg flatlands build social networks and so decrease their isolation.

The website contains information on education facilities, accommodation, entertainment and jobs. There are also forums where visitors can build social networks and start conversations.

Instead of reporting on the violent and extreme outcomes of xenophobia, the project explores the roots of difference, attempting to give public airtime to the most ordinary, everyday conversations of South Africans, migrants, refugees and foreigners, Kurgan says.

Yeoville residents can share snippets of their lives with each other
A peep into a resident's life

"Most images of displaced people are very tired and predictable in their storyline, depicting them as desperate, weak and violated. The caricatures don't tell us anything about the people in the picture. They disconnect us from their histories, geographies and substances of their everyday lives."

The digital art project takes the form of a series of private booths in which members of the public are invited to document their lives and their stories. Here they can:

  • Tell stories of Joburg, home, loss, love and longing;
  • Map their roots and journeys across Africa and beyond;
  • Take a snap with a sweetheart in the love booth;
  • Make a movie to upload to You Tube in the video booth;
  • Check out whether a downtown club plays kwasa-kwasa or kwaito;
  • Find a new home via an online notice board of classifieds;
  • Set up a date with a stranger;
  • Barter skills;
  • Find the number of a legal advice service; or
  • Connect with fellow refugees from their homelands.

Social map
"By sharing snippets from their everyday lives, loves, losses and dreams in each private booth, they contribute to building a social map of the pan-African suburb in which they live," Kurgan points out.

The project is funded by the Johannesburg Development Agency, the National Arts Council, the Ford Foundation and the Goethe Institute.

Kurgan worked closely with Tegan Bristow, an artist and interactive digital media developer who designed and built many of the self-documenting applications housed in the booths. In turn, they worked with Alexander Opper and Amir Livneh of Notion Architects, who transformed the virtual spaces of Hotel Yeoville.

Yeoville is home to thousands of African immigrants
Yeoville is home to thousands of African immigrants

Artist Guylain Lutu Ndengo designed and produced the paintings and signage that decorate the walls of each booth.

Kurgan says the project is gaining popularity and is attracting a large number of people. "Feedback from the community has revealed that it they enjoy using the facilities and feel at home."

Public participation
She adds that the project will be driven by public participation. "The way the exhibition has been arranged relies completely on the engagement and participation of visitors - the user, in fact, produces the exhibition both within the space and on the website."

About 40 000 people live in and around Yeoville, of which 65 to 70 percent are from other African countries. People living in the area hail from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Angola, Botswana, Somalia, Mozambique, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Malawi and Zambia, among other countries.

Its proximity to job opportunities and the city centre has made it the preferred destination for a predominately black, poor and working class population rapidly moving to the city from the far-flung black townships, rural areas of South Africa and elsewhere.

The Hotel Yeoville project is at the new Yeoville Library, 51 - 53 Raleigh Street. It is open from Mondays to Thursdays, from 1pm to 5pm, and on Fridays and Saturdays from 9am to 1pm.

For further information, visit the Hotel Yeoville website or a send an email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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Last Updated on 18 May 2010