Photographer: Paul Grendon


Lionel Davis Retrospective Exhibition: Gathering Strands

“Art is a celebration of life. I am concerned with cultural diversity, socio-political issues, poverty, injustice, racism, and xenophobia in my art work. But in my life there will always be time to laugh, to dream, to be merry; otherwise, life would be boring. For me Gathering Strands somehow sums up not only my political journey but also my artistic journey.”

Lionel Davis

In honouring the contribution of artist and cultural activist Lionel Davis the District Six Museum in collaboration with ASAI (Africa South Arts Initiative) and the Iziko Museum,  launched a retrospective exhibition entitled Gathering Strands. The exhibition opened on the 21st June 2016, on his 81st birthday, at the Iziko South African National Gallery, it ran for three months until the end of October 2017.

Lionel is a former District Sixer and an ex-Robben Island political prisoner. He is described variously as an activist, storyteller, educator and cultural worker, and his contribution to the South African art community and civic organisations exemplifies selflessness and determination against all odds.

Curated by the District Six Museum team, Tina Smith, Ayesha Price and Amie Soudien in partnership with Ernestine White from IZIKO, this retrospective art exhibition was a first for the Museum. The production and publication of the exhibition book, Awakenings was facilitated by ASAI [link to book blurb]. A worksheet was developed by Barbara Voss in support of the schools educational programme [link to worksheet]

The exhibition allowed us to journey with Lionel as his work challenges us to reflect and question the human condition. A few of his artworks where these themes are explored include: District Six lino-prints– ‘Vanaand Gaan die Poppe Dans’, ‘Home Sweet Home’, Memories of District Six, Robben Island lino-prints – ‘Welcome to Robben Island’, ‘Robben Island Remembered’, Train Series – ‘Long Wait’, ‘Derde Klas’ , ‘Journey Home’, and a series of mono-prints entitled ‘Dark Days Eighties’   

The exhibition was included in the 2018 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. 

Based on a collection of his District Six pencil drawings in which he recorded popular landmarks during the last days of destruction, a map plotting these landmarks was developed for a Lionel Davis Heritage Day site walk brochure in September 2017 [link to brochure]  Inspired by his Masquerade art series, the Heritage Day procession featured painted African masks, puppets and textile banners produced by District Six ex-residents, youth, artists and community members.