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Goodman Gallery Cape Town
4 February – 2 March 2016
The Past Lies Ahead, Sue Williamson’s new exhibition at Goodman Gallery Cape Town, coincides with the launch of a superbly illustrated 256 page monograph, Sue Williamson: Life and Work covering the artist’s entire career, published by the prestigious Italian art house, Skira.
The exhibition looks back at themes that have consistently appeared throughout the artists’ career, such as absence and loss, and their continued importance in the present. An intervention in the space of the gallery, for instance, allows visitors to gaze through a window, especially uncovered for this exhibition, which overlooks the area that was once District Six. On a new window, installed over the old one, Williamson has engraved the scene as it exists today, but has also included the streets and the dense rows of cottages that would have been there in 1960.
Similarly The Lost District, five other works based on old photographs and engraved on sheets of glass, will also memorialize what is no longer there. The delicate lines of Williamson’s incised glass are difficult to see, but show up clearly in the crisp grey shadows cast on the wall behind the work.
In other works, Williamson presents a new piece from her series Other Voices Other Cities. Since 2009, the series explores the definition of place to cities and citizens. In each new city, she works by setting up a workshop of young artists and other residents, asking them to discuss what distinguishes their city and the people of that city from one another. At the conclusion of the workshop participants meet again and hold up letters of the alphabet to spell out the message for a word-by-word series of photographs. At a time when much of the world is in constant flux, the dialogue created by residents of different cities is engaging and revealing. Williamson’s newest addition to the series is the city of Paris, shot in mid-January.
The show also features preparatory mixed media works for a larger video installation that investigates another key theme in the artists’ oeuvre, the long-term effects of the violence of apartheid on those who experienced it at the time, and also on the new generation.
Willamson has been described by Robert Storr, former director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York as ‘one of the foremost artists of her generation’, and her early series A Few South Africans, acquired by the Tate Modern, London last year, is currently on display on Citizens and State.
The opening of the exhibition on February 4 will launch the artist’s monograph, edited by acclaimed writer Mark Gevisser, and with contributions from Chika Okeke-Ogulu, Pumla Gobodo Madikizela and Ciraj Rassool.
Sue Williamson (b. 1941, Lichfield, UK) emigrated with her family to South Africa in 1948. Trained as a printmaker, Williamson also works in installation, photography and video. In the 1970s, she started to make work which addressed social change during apartheid and by the 1980s Williamson was well known for her series of portraits of women involved in the country’s political struggle. A Few South Africans is one such a series where she celebrates women who had played roles in the fight for freedom.
Referring to her practice, Williamson states: “You become aware of the audience to whom you speak. In that sense, you think backwards: what you have to say, whom you say it to, and how it will reach the audience. Having to consider your work through the eyes of somebody who knows nothing about you as an artist and what you are doing is a useful exercise.” Williamson has managed to avoid the rut of being caught in an apartheid-era aesthetic, “I am never particularly interested in doing what I did the last time. I take one thing and work it out a number of ways.”
In 2018, Williamson was Goodman Gallery’s featured artist at the FNB Joburg Art Fair, where she exhibited her work Messages from the Atlantic Passage, a large-scale installation of shackled, suspended glass bottles engraved with profiles of 19th-century victims of slavery. This installation was also exhibited that year at Art Basel in Switzerland and at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in India.
Williamson’s works feature in numerous public collections across the globe, including those at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA, Tate Modern, London, UK, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., USA, Wifredo Lam Centre, Havana, Cuba, Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa, and Johannesburg Art Gallery, South Africa.
Williamson has received various awards and fellowships such as the Bellagio Creative Arts Fellowship 2011, Italy, Rockefeller Foundation, the Visual Artist Research Award Fellowship 2007, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., USA and the Lucas Artists Residency Fellowship 2005, Montalvo Art Center, California, USA.
Sue Williamson lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa.