Sue Williamson is a South African visual artist who emigrated with her family to South Africa in 1948, where she currently lives and works. Trained in printmaking, Sue Williamson also works in installation, photography and video.
In the 1970s, Sue Williamson began making works that consider social change during segregation, and in the 1980s, she is known for her series of photographs of women associated with South Africa’s political struggle.
Struck by the vileness of the country’s socio-political relations, Sue Williamson draws from the past to scrutinize the present and to archive, in a summary manner, the reality she witnesses.
In 1977, Sue Williamson witnessed for seven days the destruction of 2,000 houses in a district outside Cape Town. Four years later, the obliteration of the last houses in the District led her to create « The Last Supper Revisited » in 1993: accompanied by statements from the evicted occupants, this installation shows the waste recovered in the destruction, private articles mingle with oral histories, allusions to tractors or calls for petitions to restore the memory of the district.
After Nelson Mandela‘s party came to power in 1994, Sue Williamson focuses on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings from 1996 to 1998 and offers us her series « Truth Games » which takes us into these dark and shifting regions.
The paintings are an enigma, the base layer being amplified paper photographs of the TRC hearings: the victim on the left, the perpetrator on the right, the event in the center – but cropped or stretched in a way that often makes the central wound enigmatic or confusing.
The images are topped with moving cloudy braces: text excerpts from statements or news reports. To fully immerse oneself in the work, one must move the words around, a cycle that uncovers some genuine subtleties while obscuring others.
In 1990, Sue Williamson made « For Thirty Years Next to His Heart », a set of photographs produced from Ncithakalo John Ngesi’s passbook, a kind of inner visa, an image of dread that every black African had to pass on or be quickly captured because they were not allowed to live or work in a white region of South Africa. This work designed according to the standards of an innovative framework, mixing the comfortable with the legitimate, the commemorative with the regulatory, it immerses the visitor in the secret.
A significant number of Sue Williamson‘s initial works were designed from private connections made in battle. Her specialty has been studied for the morality of approaching the existences of others across racial, class and social divides. In the series « Better Lives » presented at the Dakar Biennale in 2004, people passing through Cape Town recount their difficult excursions.
Sue Williamson has participated in several group and solo exhibitions, as well as several biennials. As an artist, but also as a critic and editor, she contributes, in her own specific way, to the advancement of South African artists, while at the same time pursuing political and activist activity.
In 2018, Sue Williamson was Goodman Gallery‘s featured artist at the FNB Joburg Art Fair, where she presented her work « Messages from the Atlantic Passage », an installation composed of suspended and fettered glass bottles carved with subtleties from 19th century slave trade reports. This installation was also shown at Art Basel in Switzerland and the 2018 Kochi-Muziris Biennale in India.
Sue Williamson‘s work is in various collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art, the Wifredo Lam Center in Havana, the Iziko South African National Gallery in Cape Town, and the Johannesburg Art Gallery in South Africa. Sue Williamson has received several awards and fellowships, including the Bellagio Creative Arts Fellowship in 2011, Rockefeller Foundation, the Visual Artist Research Award Fellowship in 2007, Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., and the Lucas Artists Residency Fellowship in 2005, Montalvo Art Center in California.