The View from District Six

Lionel Davis, Mosque District Six (ca. 1980s), linocut, 65 x 46.5cm. Image courtesy the Weltkulturen Museum, Frankfurt.

South Africa’s strong history of printmaking has involved many centers of print production. Under Apartheid, organizations such as the Evangelical Lutheran Center’s Rorke’s Drift (1962–1982) in present day KwaZulu-Natal and the Community Arts Project (1975–2008) in Cape Town provided vital opportunities for artists of color who were often denied access to educational and professional situations. More recently, David Krut Projects Print Hubspace in Johannesburg, the Artists’ Press in White River, and Warren Editions in Cape Town have brought South African prints by contemporary artists to international attention. As the Museum of Modern Art’s 2011 exhibition “Impressions from South Africa” made clear, South African artists have long used prints to document political events and to reflect on social experiences. Though some may make international news, most of these events and experiences are local in nature, including references to a particular area, a particular town, a particular neighborhood. Prints are mobile entities, of course, and one of the lures of printmaking under Apartheid was to make things that could travel where their makers could not, but something is inevitably lost in translation. This is certainly the case in Cape Town, where the destruction of one neighborhood fifty years ago continues to resonate in ways that may not be understood by international audiences.

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