South African Past Is Present in Sue Williamson’s New Show at Goodman Gallery

Coinciding with the release of a monograph on artist and activist Sue Williamson, Cape Town’s Goodman Gallery offers a range of her projects in “The Past Lies Ahead,” a show imbued with the fraught history of Williamson’s home country, South Africa.

After an early career in copywriting and advertising, Williamson found her path in art and activism. Her experience crafting news, marketing, and advertising helped shape her approach. This process is apparent in her “Truth Games” series (1998) in which she focuses on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a judiciary body set up in post-apartheid South Africa to bring justice to victims of human rights abuses. 

Each of the 15 large-scale panels features enlarged text and images clipped from newspaper stories covering the highest-profile cases heard by the TRC. From left to right in each panel is an image of the victim, the scene of the crime, and the perpetrator. The images are overlaid with fragmentary quotes from a corresponding news article; those excerpts can be slid across the faces in the panel so as to foreground the shifting, uncertain nature of recollections and evidence out of which the past is constructed.

In a more recent series, “The Lost District” (2016), Williamson meditates upon the forced relocations demanded by the apartheid government, which permanently changed Cape Town’s urban landscape. Glass sheets are etched with different views of neighborhoods whose diverse residents once included Muslims, Xhosa, Afrikaans, and Indians—until the late 1960s, when the government forced all but the white residents from their homes. The draconian actions are represented by thick, imposing steel bars overlaid onto the fragile glass, while the etched neighborhoods can only be seen in shadows cast on a white wall.


Karen Kedmey


Sue Williamson: The Past Lies Ahead” is on view at Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, Feb. 4–Mar. 2, 2016.

Follow Goodman Gallery on Artsy.

Share article