Wits City Institute Student Exhibition

iHostela Ngeliny’iKhaya
Regarding Photography as a Just Image

Nocebo Bucibo

Wits City Institute Mellon Architecture, Urbanism and the Humanities Master’s Fellow Nocebo Bucibo’s exhibition iHostela Ngeliny’iKhaya, Regarding Photography as a Just Image was part of her final submission towards her Master of Arts in Fine Arts (MAFA) at the Wits School of Arts.

Bucibo’s previous qualifications include a National Diploma and BTech in photography from the Vaal University of Technology.  As a photographer she has worked on a number of photographic projects including the Wits Roodepoort project and the VUT Sharpeville project. She was a 2009 Sasol Signatures finalist and SABS Young Design Achievers finalist in the same year. Her body of work titled Ikaya`lam was exhibited as part of a group exhibition at The Lovell Gallery during the fifth Month of Photography in Cape Town (2012). Some of this work was exhibited at Constitution Hill as a solo exhibition in 2014 and at the JOBURG Fringe under Kwasuka gallery at Maboneng in 2015. A selection of images from Ikhaya’lam were exhibited in 2017 in a group show Invisible Borders: Cultural Time Zones in Johannesburg and New Delhi, held in association with the Wits City Institute and the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Johannesburg. Bucibo was the recipient of the 2015 Tierney Fellowship at the University of the Witwatersrand. 

3-12 March 2018 / Workers Museum, Johannesburg 

Words and images: Nocebo Bucibo

Image 1: iziNgane, Madala hostel Alexandra, 2012 – 2017

Image 2: amaWele, Mai Mai hostel Johannesburg, 2012 – 2017

Image 3: uHambo, Madala hostel Alexandra, 2012 – 2017

This photographic exhibition, iHostela Ngeliny’iKhaya: Regarding Photography as a Just Image (2012-2017), forms the practical research for my Master’s dissertation A Just Image: South African Hostels and Contemporary South African Photography (2018). In my written research, I explore Roland Barthes’s concept of a ‘just image’ and its potential function in understanding the notion of memory and personal identity that may be conveyed through photography. Further, my interest is in how the concept of a ‘just image’ may help to signify the complex act of photographing the social life of the South African migrant hostels. I contend that in photography, the term a ‘just image’ conceptualises an image which evokes the physical, psychological, and cultural space of the South African migrant labour hostels.

My photography in Johannesburg’s migrant labour hostels began in 2010, with a  recollection of my memories of living close to the hostels in the early 1990s in Thokoza, during the violent conflict between the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and African National Congress (ANC). These memories drove me to begin visiting certain Johannesburg hostels, where I developed personal relationships with the people who live there. The work contained in this exhibition is part of my final project towards my MAFA, and documents my process of reconnection to, and new understandings of the hostels.

There is so much more that goes on beyond the brick walls and the beds of these spaces than I initially expected. By being exposed to the sounds, smells, atmosphere and ‘aura’ of the hostel, the photographs are not only aimed at capturing the physical conditions of the Johannesburg hostels, but also what I see as their ‘spiritual’ attributes: intimate aspects which may trigger the viewer’s recognition of my experience in these spaces.  

I have used the theoretical knowledge gained by my research to articulate my new experiences of the physical structure and spiritual attributes of the hostels, both in writing and in my practice of photography.  Where social documentary photography has traditionally been concerned with touching on social issues that people face on a day-to-day basis and strives to create awareness in the greater public of these issues, in this body of work I attempt to situate my own role in creating conditions specific to the moment of capture, and the question of my desire in capturing certain images. Martha Rosler writes that there is a ‘new’ type of social documentary photography, which now involves the personal and self-reflection: ‘a new generation of photographers has directed the documentary approach toward more personal ends’ (1993:321). By adopting this new approach to social documentary photography, I was able to create personal and intimate images of gogo ‘Thembi and other hostel dwellers. The relationships I built with hostel-dwellers has been a great source of knowledge about life and changes in the hostels, and the space I offer is to preserve their memories, and evoke the shared experiences of other viewers.

The hostels that are depicted here are in Johannesburg, Gauteng. These are Mshaya’zafe hostel in Thokoza (south of Johannesburg), Merafe hostel and Diepkloof hostel, both situated in Soweto (south of the Johannesburg city centre), and Madala hostel in Alexandra (northern Johannesburg). I have also been to the Mai Mai Hostel, located in Johannesburg’s centre.

The hostels are spaces that historically accommodated migrant workers who came to the city of Johannesburg to improve their financial status and to contribute to the country’s economy. Choosing to have the exhibition in March and at the Workers Museum is in celebration of Human Rights Day, 21 March 2018.

Bucibo’s thesis supervisors were Jo Ractliffe and Jessica Webster in the Wits School of the Arts.

Media coverage: The story of Joburg hostels in pictures.