In many ways, the iterative process of producing this exhibit mirrors the stops and starts, the setbacks and leaps forward in the journeys of migrants all over the world. From listening to their stories to transposing, composing, rehearsing, performing, recording and editing, the version we wanted to tell changed many times and grew to encompass many voices.
At the beginning—before this installation was even the seed of an idea—Caroline Wanjiku Kihato collected women’s stories for her book, Migrant Women of Johannesburg. She spoke with women who’d travelled great distances from Congo and Rwanda to Johannesburg. Employing an attentive, feminist methodology, she spent time with them, within and without their homes. Allowing, rather than eschewing, the gradual entanglement of their lives with hers.
Now, we invite you into this entanglement.
A skein of yarn
Visual artist Awo Tsegah’s fabric panels take survey data collected in 2021 by the Wits-Oxford Mobility Governance Lab and render them familiar. Depicted in the colours and patterns of the Khanga, Shewshwe, and Kente worn by women across the continent, the data becomes paradoxically intimate and domestic. So too, does the room. Pushing back against the white-walled sterility of contemporary exhibition spaces, we do what migrants do—we make a home.
Weaving a tale
Surrounded by these complex portraits of city life, we invite you to take a seat, to make yourself at home and allow yourself to be vulnerable. You Will Find Your People Here, performed by Mareli Stolp and composed by Clare Loveday, pulls no punches. With words taken from Kihato’s book, the piece confronts the unvarnished realities of life for these migrant women—mingling loss and ambition, uncertainty and resilience.
The performance is a patchwork; snatches of spoken word, vocal utterances and music are interwoven to create a tapestry of sound evocative of the migrant women’s testimonies. We engage your senses to immerse you in the frenetic push and pull of these transient lives. Both the performance and the installation circumvent linguistic and cultural barriers by shucking literalism and embracing lyricism, aesthetics, affect. The exhibition space is transformed into an untidy microcosm of the contact zone of Johannesburg, wherein cultures and people grapple with each other despite and because of asymmetrical power relations that unfold over centuries.
There are always stories that don’t get told, voices and ideas that slip through the cracks. No matter how large the sample or how long the study, our attention is finite. Blending the breadth of knowledge contained within Tsegah’s maps and the minutiae of life excavated by Stolp’s performance, we come closer to seeing the whole picture. That said, we encourage you to dig into unanswered questions, to follow your curiosity about issues raised and thoughts left unfinished.
What happens now, once the work is let loose on the world, is just one more step in this grand collaboration. As with people, ideas that migrate settle in new places and make new connections, they inspire new avenues for exploration and bring new histories. It is our sincere hope that You Will Find Your People Here finds fertile soil for radical conversations about affluence, inequity and justice. That it teaches and inspires with a view of Africa’s many thousands of migrant women richer and more complex than history has provided.