The Lost District

Overlooking the harbour and spilling down the slopes of Table Mountain, Cape Town's legendary District Six was once home to 60 000 people -a lively and tightly knit working class community many of whom were descendants of slaves, and were now merchants, seamstresses, carpenters and other artisans, gangsters and professionals. Immigrants added to the mix, and there were strong traditions of musical performance and sport.

 

People of all colours lived there, but in 1966, the apartheid government declared the District for whites only, and in 1968, demolitions started.  Bulldozers systematically smashed down fine Victorian buildings, rows of neat cottages, cinemas, like the British Cinema, cafes, streets of shops, the fish market and the public wash-house.  By 1981, almost nothing remained, and the community, once so vocal, had been silenced.

 

Today, the barren land shows little sign of reclamation, still haunted by the ghosts of the past. Floating against a pale blue street map of the old District Six, Sue Williamson's installation The Lost District recalls and commemorates the life of the disappeared community. Steel framed 'windows' give skewed street views derived from archival photographs, hand engraved by the artist into glass. The incised white lines seem delicate and ephemeral, but throw a sharp grey shadow onto the wall behind.