Work in progress: Bringing District Six back to life

09 February 2016 - 02:19 By Sean O' Toole


Throughout her career artist Sue Williamson has asked viewers of her photos, videos, urban graffiti and other pigeonhole-resistant labours to critically think about how and where they live. The Past Lies Ahead, her new exhibition at the Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, continues with this theme and includes a work in progress about District Six.The Lost District (2016) consists of a pane of plexiglass fitted into a previously covered-over window. The southwesterly view it offers takes in ramshackle working-class homes, weathered schools and churches, new office blocks and a highway named after Nelson Mandela, all framed by the grandiose Table Mountain.For the duration of her exhibition Williamson is filling in the blank space between the highway and mountain by drawing in the missing buildings that made up District Six."I am trying to reconstruct a vision of District Six as it was in the 1960s," said Williamson, who witnessed the neighbourhood's destruction first-hand.In 1981 she photographed Naz and Harry Ebrahim celebrating Eid for the last time at their home, Manley Villa. She also documented their home's demolition, and in 2008 returned to photograph the vacant plot in Zonnebloem, formerly District Six.The story behind this black-and-white photo series, titled Last Supper at Manley Villa, is recounted in a new book, Sue Williamson:Life and Work.Written and edited by political journalist Mark Gevisser, the book includes additional contributions by art historian Chika Okeke-Agulu, psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela and historian Ciraj Rassool."My favourite part of the book is a walk through District Six with Sue and Ciraj, who was born in District Six," said Gevisser."At one point in the walk Ciraj pointed to the Nelson Mandela Boulevard and made the point that all the buildings below the flyover were originally part of District Six too."That includes Fairweather House, where Williamson's work in progress drawing in the Goodman Gallery reanimates a lost past. Five glass engravings flank this live drawing. When lit, these gorgeous works project silhouettes of the bulldozed community onto the gallery wall.The exhibition also includes key historical works engaged with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, former president Thabo Mbeki's HIV/Aids denialism and President Jacob Zuma's 2006 rape trial.On at the Goodman Gallery Cape Town until March 2

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