PHOTOGRAPHS BY Roger Eberhard, INTERVIEW BY HABITAT PROJECT
Roger Eberhard, through his clean and detached photographs shows us those which at a first glance would seem the typical colored shacks of the suburbs of South African cities; at a closer look we realize we are observing the elegant rooms of a 4-star resort hotel in the center of South Africa.
How did you know this place?
I first read about this hotel on a blog, it was just a little “fun factor”, something odd out of South Africa. But what interested me instantly was the fact that someone thought poverty is a cultural heritage and then made a theme park out of it.
Why do you think this place is interesting?
In my artistic practice I am often exploring artificially contrived settlements. Places that appear as something they are not, modern Potemkin villages you might call them. I focus mainly on the facades of these places to reveal them as pictorialized stereotypes.
Why do you think that tourists choose this hotel?
It is quite common for wealthy tourists to visit impoverished countries without ever exposing themselves to the extreme penury its citizens suffer. Or for travelers to book guided bus tours, similar to safaris, through slums to photograph and experience “the real” reality: poverty tourism! “Shanty Town” is a four star hotel in Bloemfontein, the heart of South Africa, that goes even further and offers visitors a Township experience without ever having to set eyes on people who are actually suffering: a fake shanty town so that its wealthy clientele can pretend to slum it “within the safe environment of a private game reserve”.
But maybe to better understand why people choose this hotel it is useful to quote the hotel’s website: “Now you can experience staying in a Shanty within the safe environment of a private game reserve. This is the only Shanty Town in the world equipped with under-floor heating and wireless internet access! The Shanty Town is ideal for team building, braais, fancy theme parties and an experience of a lifetime. Our Shantys are completely safe and child friendly.”
Why do you think the owners had this idea?
I guess the answer to this question is quite simple; someone must have thought this would be a good business opportunity.