Daughter of District Six, Kewpie as she was known, was a renowned queer figure and hairdresser from District Six. Born in 1941, Kewpie it is said identified as gender fluid; though Kewpie and her affiliates often made use of feminine pronouns when speaking to one another. The nightlife saw Kewpie celebrate drag balls as an attendee as well as a stage performer.
Kewpie: Daughter of District Six, currently showing at the Market Photo Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg, is a photographic exhibition curated by Tina Smith, Jenny Marsden and Karin Tan. It glimpses into the life of Kewpie – one of District Six’s most glamorous and well-known residents. The exhibition opens up a world to its viewer containing a selection of photographic images from the Kewpie collection kept by the GALA Archives in Johannesburg. The Kewpie collection consists of over 700 prints making it GALA’s most expansive photographic collection. The value of these archives is however elevated by the fact that Kewpie captioned these photographs herself upon transfer to GALA in 1999.
The preserved images are of Kewpie working in a salon, Kewpie and friends interacting and performing at drag balls, depictions of Kewpie’s friends, neighbours, lovers, parties, candid snapshots of everyday life in District Six as well as photoshoots of Kewpie’s friends. The images become a glimpse into the changing socio-political plateau of District Six during the violent forced removals of the 1970s.
After wrapping up a successful run at the District Six Museum Homecoming Centre in Cape Town, the Johannesburg iteration came together due to a collaborative spirit that was fostered between the GALA Archives, the District Six Museum and the Market Photo Workshop. And brought to life thanks to the generous funding from the Norwegian Embassy in South Africa.
In these photographs, the value of the personal narrative becomes clear as it establishes a platform for lived experiences that could have otherwise gone untold. Though people are relatively familiar with the history of District Six, personal archives and by extension personal narratives from inhabitants establish a real-life link with the experiences of people who lived in the area during the time of the horrific forced removals. Kewpie’s narrative has created an entry point into a lesser-known history of this community – the queer community who were according to personal accounts largely accepted and adored. Kewpie’s story is one of pride, love, self-expression and hope in an incredibly dark time in South Africa’s history.
Kewpie’s story and that of the community around her which included those whose gender choices were not mainstream, tells a story of acceptance and embracing of differences which is not without pain and struggle.
– District Six Museum director Bonita Bennett
Coinciding with the run of the exhibition a number of events will be held in honor if Kewpie including a public talk with feminist author Urvashi Butalia on the 21 May, a Youth Day ‘Zine workshop and Presentation’ on the 14 June, a film screening of A Normal Daughter: The Life and Times of Kewpie of District Six as well as a screening of Masquerading – To Hell and Back.
The exhibition runs from the 17 May – 31 July 2019.