Sue Williamson / The Past Lies Ahead / 2016

Sue Williamson 04 February - 02 March 2016 Goodman Gallery, Cape Town

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

Sue Williamson (b. 1941, Lichfield, UK) emigrated with her family to South Africa in 1948. In the 1970s, Williamson started to make work which addressed social change and by the late 1980s she was well known for her series of portraits of women involved in the country’s political struggle, titled A Few South Africans (1980s). 

Major international solo exhibitions include: Can’t Remember, Can’t Forget at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg (2017); Other Voices, Other Cities at the SCAD Museum of Art in Georgia, USA (2015), Messages from the Moat, Den Haag, Netherlands (2003) and The Last Supper Revisited (2002) at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. Williamson has participated in biennales around the world, including the Kochi Muziris Biennale (2019); several Havana Biennales as well as Sydney, Istanbul, Venice and Johannesburg biennales. Group exhibitions include, Resist: the 1960s Protests, Photography and Visual Legacy (2018) at BOZAR in Brussels; Women House (2017, 2018) at La Monnaie de Paris and National Museum for Women in the Arts (Washington D.C); Citizens: Artists and Society Tate Modern, London; Being There (2017) at Fondation Louis Vuitton (Paris) and Rise and Fall of Apartheid: Photography and the Bureaucracy of Everyday Life (2014) at the International Centre for Photography New York and the Museum Africa (Johannesburg), curated by Okwui Enwezor, and The Short Century (2001-2) also curated by Okwui Enwezor, Museum Villa Stuck, Munich, House of World Cultures, Berlin, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and P.S.1 New York.

Williamson’s works feature in museum collections, ranging from the Museum of Modern Art (New York), Tate Modern (London), Victoria & Albert Museum (London), Pompidou Centre, (Paris), Hammer Museum, (Los Angeles) to the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution (Washington D.C), Iziko South African National Gallery (Cape Town) and the Johannesburg Art Gallery (Johannesburg). Williamson has authored two books - South African Art Now (2009) and Resistance Art in South Africa (1989). In 1997, Williamson founded, a leading website on South African contemporary art and the first of its kind in the country.  Awards and fellowships include The Living Legends Award (2020), attributed by the South African government’s Department of Sports, Arts and Culture; the University of Johannesburg’s Ellen Kuzwayo Award (2018); the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Creative Arts Fellowship (2011); the Smithsonian’s Visual Artist Research Award Fellowship (2007) and the Lucas Artists Residency Fellowship (2005) from Montalvo Art Center in California.

Williamson lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa.