Active from 1977 to 2008 and operating in the Cape Town neighbourhoods of Mowbray, Salt River, and Woodstock, the Community Arts Project (CAP) was a non-sectarian and non-racial group of cultural workers—visual artists, musicians, performers, and educators—that provided support and a platform for artists and learners who were marginalised under apartheid.
Five former members or CAP – Lionel Davis, Barbara Voss, David Hlongwane, Trish de Villiers, and Mike van Graan – are invited to share about their time as cultural workers since the late 1970s. Offering reflections on the art and struggle of decades past with moderator Dr. Kim Gurney (Centre for Humanities Research) their personal testimonies will provide critical insights and new resources for studying the histories of art and activism in the local context of Cape Town, and beyond as part of the vast global networks of artistic solidarity that the exhibition Past Disquiet excavates.
Meet the Participants
Lionel Davis is an artist and former student, teacher and trustee at the Community Arts Project. He has had a decades-long career as an artist and activist. After serving a seven-year sentence on Robben Island where he earned his Senior Certificate, followed by a five-year period of house arrest. Davis began his art education at the Community Arts Project in 1978 and later studied art at Rorke’s Drift and the Michaelis School of Fine Art. He has contributed immensely to the arts and heritage sector in Cape Town and beyond, at the Robben Island Museum, the South African National Gallery, and the Triangle and Thupelo Workshops. In 2017, Iziko SANG and the District Six Museum presented Lionel Davis: Gathering Strands a retrospective exhibition that coincided with the ASAI monograph Awakenings: The Art of Lionel Davis.
Barbara Voss is a teacher and artist who worked with CAP from 1989 to 1995, first as a bookkeeper and then running the Children’s Art Project. While working in many varied jobs ranging from bookkeeping to childcare to language instruction and adult education, she studied towards a degree in psychology and sociology which she completed through UNISA. She later qualified as a high school teacher. Barbara met Lionel Davis at the Community Arts Project in 1986, and they have been life partners since then. Barbara exhibited her own artwork alongside Lionel’s in A Conversation in 4 Parts at the Robben Island Museum in 2006 (with Paul Stopforth and Ruth Carneson). Barbara taught Visual Arts at a Cape Town high school and is now retired.
Trish De Villiers was born in Cape Town and schooled across South Africa and overseas, obtaining a Diploma in Fine Art at the (then) Johannesburg College of Art. She fled the grim realities of apartheid South Africa in the early 1970s to study, then practice, stage design in London, and spent ten years under the radar of the immigration authorities, most of them with a Brecht-inspired touring theatre group that made plays ‘with and about’ the trade union movement. She resolved to return to South Africa and became an offset lithographic ‘machine minder’ at a print cooperative, joined the ANC and returned to Cape Town in 1982. After a period with the People’s Space Theatre, she began a ten-year association with the Community Arts Project shortly after the Gaborone Arts Festival, working in the CAP Poster Workshop at Chapel Street, then at Community House in Salt River. Concurrently she obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Adult and Continuing Education at UWC. After a spell freelancing in illustration, cartooning and poster design, she took up a management post in the newly configured provincial health department in 1998. She retired from this in 2012 and is now working independently from a small town in the Overberg.
David Hlongwane was born in Zwelethemba Township, Worcester. He completed his high school education at Vusisizwe High School in Worcester and fled to Cape Town to avoid state harassment. Hlongwane joined the Community Arts Project in 1984, after reading about it in Grassroots. The following year, his brother, who had been supporting him, was killed by police and David had to give up his studies. He was arrested several times for his activities in the struggle. In prison, Hlongwane explored his artistic talent, which he then made into his profession. With the support of the Italian Government, he was offered a full grant in 1988 to study art in Perugia, a small town near Florence, for one year, then going on to complete a four-year course at the Academia di Belle Arte in Perugia. His art, story, and politics are expressed in many media ranging posters, banners, pamphlets, and cartoons, as well as in sculpture and painting. David’s work is to be found in collections in Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Italy and America.
Mike van Graan was a theatre educator and director of the Community Arts Project in the 1980s and 90s. He is a playwright and the Secretary General of Arterial Network, a pan-African network of artists, cultural activists, creative enterprises, and others. Mike is the executive director of the African Arts Institute, an NGO whose mission is to develop leadership for the African creative sector and to build regional markets for African artists. He has garnered numerous nominations and awards for his plays that interrogate the South African post-apartheid condition and served as advisor to the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science, and Technology.
Meet the Moderator
Dr. Kim Gurney is a writer, artist and researcher. She is currently based at the Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape (UWC), completing her fourth book, ‘Flipside: The Inadvertent Archive’, which is currently in press with iwalewabooks. ‘Flipside’ responds to the extensive, uncatalogued document archive of an arts association and non-profit gallery in Cape Town, South Africa.
Kim is the author of three other books variously linking contemporary art to public space and city futures: Panya Routes: Independent art spaces in Africa; August House is Dead, Long Live August House! The Story of a Johannesburg Atelier; and The Art of Public Space: Curating and Re-imagining the Ephemeral City.
Kim’s writing, which crosses genre but favours long-form creative non-fiction, is inflected by a former life as a journalist and News Editor and often seeks out backstage narratives. She is widely published in different genres and international platforms. Her artistic practice engages disappearances of different kinds and makes restorative gestures, while collaborating with artists curatorially.
Meet the Curators
Kristine Khouri is an independent researcher and writer whose research interests focus on the history of arts circulation and infrastructure in the Arab world, and archival practices and dissemination. Khouri is a member of the board of the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut.
Rasha Salti is a writer, researcher, and curator of art and film living and working between Beirut and Berlin.
Together, Khouri and Salti are cofounders of the History of Arab Modernities in the Visual Arts Study Group, a research platform focused around the social history of art in the Arab world. They co-authored the essay “Beirut’s Musée Imaginaire: The promise of modernity in the age of mechanical reproduction.” Their current project, Past Disquiet, on show on level 4 at Zeitz MOCAA until June 2024, is a long-term research project which began in 2008 and was transformed into a documentary and archival exhibition and the publication Past Disquiet: Artists, International Solidarity, and Museums in Exile published by the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw (2018).
Image credit: No-12-CHR_Collections_Photos_Lionel-Davis-Media-Workers_No-12