At 14, I faced the stark reality of immigration. In 1991, my family embarked on a journey from post-Soviet Estonia to Germany, fueled by the pursuit of a brighter future. Over nearly 35 years of traversing the globe, I’ve yet to encounter an immigrant willingly leaving their homeland if they had the option of a decent, secure life there. I witnessed my father’s tearful days, watched my mother transition from a programmer to a domestic worker, and shared the collective sorrow for the home we left behind, yearning for a sense of belonging.
As an artist, I’ve always held a special place for immigrants in my work. I deeply empathize with their sense of displacement and their resolute determination to uncover silver linings amidst hardship. I highly regard their sacrifices, hope, and unwavering faith in securing a better future for the generations that follow.
During my photographic meeting with Lucy, a Malawian immigrant and day laborer in the affluent suburbs of Cape Town, these thoughts were at the forefront of my mind, shaping our conversation. Like countless immigrants, Lucy found herself compelled to depart her homeland in order to provide sustenance for herself and her sizable family. This is no small feat, given her daily reality of receiving meager wages, enduring gender-based harassment, verbal assaults due to her foreign status, and confronting the challenge of securing employment as an older woman. Each morning, Lucy would stand at the road intersection, clad in her best attire, hopeful of earning a small income.
Every facet of her struggle is etched on her weathered yet graceful face. What struck me most deeply was the presence of something far more profound and unwavering. Whether it be called Hope, Faith, or an inner strength that transcends words, its powerful aura enveloped this fragile yet strong woman, radiating from her very being. I’ve come to call these portraits “Everyday Saints” – visual tributes to individuals who embody the astonishing capacity of human resilience. They serve as living exemplars, inspiring us to rise to the occasion in our collective endeavor to make our world a better place for all.