In 1998, the recently established Gay and Lesbian Archives of South Africa acquired about 600 photographs depicting a group of individuals assigned male at birth, who presented and expressed themselves according to conventions of femininity. The girls, as they called themselves, were classified as “Coloured” under apartheid and lived in District Six, Cape Town, when it was declared “Whites Only” in 1966, after which approximately 60,000 residents were forcibly removed as the area was almost completely bulldozed. This collection of photographs has become somewhat embedded in descriptions of the district as home to a way of life or culture, variously described as “gay” or “queer,” generally accepted if not celebrated by its wider community. Drawing on audio recordings featuring their collector, Kewpie, and remaining attentive to the differing and at times contradictory ways Kewpie presents herself, the girls, and District Six more broadly, this article proposes an alternative reading of the Kewpie Photographic Collection, as it is now known. Privileging the creative as opposed to the documentary function of photography and oral testimony, Ramsden-Karelse proposes that Kewpie uses both to make and remake the world around her, as part of what the author understands to be a larger collaborative project.
Moving and Moved: Reading Kewpie’s District Six
Ruth Ramsden-Karelse is currently completing her DPhil in English at the University of Oxford, where she is Stuart Hall Doctoral Scholar, Merton Prize Scholar, and founder and co-convenor of the Oxford Queer Studies Network.
Ruth Ramsden-Karelse; Moving and Moved: Reading Kewpie’s District Six. GLQ 1 June 2020; 26 (3): 405–438. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10642684-8311772
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