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Artist Statement - Tales of Migration


Tales of migration focuses on early township life and the Swenkas[1] culture which emerged from it. The Swenkas saw its beginnings in the after hours lives of the workers employed in the mining industry.


“I am fascinated about how the migrating community survived away from home.  Large numbers of young men and women moved from rural areas to the City of Gold[2] in the early 20th century searching for a better life. Many of these migratory workers found employment in the mines.”


The culture of the Swenkas today sees these workers taking part in weekend competitions. Derived from the English work swank these competitions see the contestants pitting their designer suits and dance moves against fellow workers. The winner is judged on not only their overall dress sense but their choreography.


During apartheid time the odds had stacked up even further against these workers - the dreadful working conditions on the mines were now coupled with a formalized rigorously white controlled society.


“What captured my attention is how they fought against these obstacles, how social groups such as the Swenkas saw them draw strength and a place of refuge from the everyday pressures surrounding them. The inclusion of music, fashion, dance and even board games became integral to these workers after hours lives.

A large boombox-style music player was always present and would set the tone or beat for gatherings. A capella-style music was common-place in the early days of the hostels. Groups such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo have found international fame drawing from this style of music. They sang to find relief from their daily stressors and banded together to mimic their employers.  Their healthy humorous competitions for the swankiest-dressed man gives them a sense of purpose unlike the drudgery of their basic employment. The spirit of ubuntu[3] has come to dominate their lives.”



[1] In South Africa, Swenkas are working-class Zulu men who participate in amateur competitions that are part fashion show and part choreography, the purpose of which is to display one's style and sense of attitude.

[2] Johannesburg


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