A precarious archive: using photography to enable liveable lives in District Six, Cape Town

Type Journal Article - Gender, Place and Culture
Title A precarious archive: using photography to enable liveable lives in District Six, Cape Town
Volume 0
Issue 0
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2023
Page numbers 1-21
URL https://doi.org/10.1080/0966369X.2023.2179024
This paper proposes that the dissemination of marginal archival resources can be informed by forms of socioeconomic precarity experienced by their creators and primary subjects. To account for these modes of circulation, the author proposes the notion of a precarious archive. The concept is developed with reference to the Kewpie Collection, an official though marginal archival resource containing photographs as well as recordings and transcripts of interviews with the photographs’ collector, Kewpie. The Collection depicts a group of self-described gays and girls living in District Six, a multicultural, inner-city area of apartheid Cape Town, before and during the District’s physical destruction by the Nationalist government. By the early 1980s, the girls were among the sixty thousand residents forcibly removed from the District because they were legally classified ‘Coloured’. The circulation of materials constituting the Kewpie Collection is characterised as precarious in two senses. First, the materials have been available to diverse uses incorporating a range of identificatory claims, often in terms in which Kewpie does not describe herself. Second, Kewpie’s account of the girls’ experiences of precarity has been de-emphasised and her photographs celebrated as evidence of the ability of gay lives to flourish in the lost District. The author instead reads these photographs as one example of the girls’ efforts to imagine new forms of social existence in the absence of sustaining infrastructure and thereby enable liveability.

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