Awakenings: The Art of Lionel Davis


Title: Awakenings: The art of Lionel Davis
Editor: Mario Pissarra
Publisher: ASAI
Date: 2017
ISBN: 978-0-620-77209-9


Note: published on the occasion of Gathering Strands, Davis’ retrospective exhibition at
the South African National Gallery.




Lionel Davis: District Six beginnings
Bonita Bennett

Lionel Davis: the composite artist
Premesh Lalu

Art from the pluriversity of life: lessons to learn from Lionel Davis’ opus
Nomusa Makhubu

Awakenings: the liberatory art of Lionel Davis
Mario Pissarra

Telling my story
Lionel Davis

Remembering District Six: the restorative art of Lionel Davis
Tina Smith

The artist as autobiographer: Lionel Davis’ images of Robben Island
Deirdre Prins-Solani

Formative training: the artist as student at CAP and Rorke’s Drift
Elizabeth Rankin and Philippa Hobbs

Culture is a weapon of the struggle: Lionel Davis and the CAP Poster Workshop
Patricia de Villiers

Visualising and narrating the everyday: observation, commentary,
realism and the art of Lionel Davis
Jacqueline Nolte

Lionel Davis and drawing: a journey of self–discovery
Barbara Voss

An archive of private and public memory: the prints of Lionel Davis
Ernestine White

Points of contact: Lionel Davis and mixed media
Ayesha Price

The expressive content of Lionel Davis’ abstract works
Thembinkosi Goniwe

The restoration of Mas in the Cape Carnival: Lionel Davis
and the masking and unmasking of (African) identities
Bridget Thompson

End Matter

Ayesha Price is a Cape Town based visual art practitioner. She was born in Parkwood Estate in 1975 and has lived and worked in many other communities across the city. She completed her studies in Art Education at the Hewat College of Education, Athlone in 1996 and has been active in art education since. In 2008, she enrolled at the University of South Africa for a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Art and received the excellence award for top national result for her graduate exhibition in 2013. She works conceptually across a wide variety of media, employing visual art as a device through which to mediate social issues. Recent exhibitions have included large scale video installations, printmaking and embroidery. The artist has also been actively engaged in a wide variety of collaborative art projects with local and international art and heritage institutions including Philadelphia University of the Arts (mural painting), Thames Festival (artist/ art educator) and District Six Museum (art educator/ curator). She has exhibited artwork at numerous group exhibitions since 1998, including at the Association for Visual Arts, University of the Western Cape, Durban Art Gallery and Iziko Museums. Her work also features in private and public collections.

Barbara Voss was born and raised in Germany. She immigrated to South Africa with her family in 1966. Barbara completed her high school education at the German School, Johannesburg. While working in many varied jobs ranging from bookkeeping to child care 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. They have a son, Leon (born 1988). Barbara and Lionel share a passionate interest in visual art and they supported each other while obtaining degrees in the subject, Lionel through UCT and Barbara through UNISA. Barbara exhibited her own artwork alongside Lionel’s in an exhibition titled A Conversation in 4 Parts in 2006, at the Robben Island Museum (the two other participating artists were Paul Stopforth and Ruth Carneson). Barbara is currently teaching Visual Arts at a Cape Town high school.

Bridget Thompson is a researcher, producer, writer and director of social documentary films. She writes and lectures on film-making and has served on several international film festival juries. Bridget’s documentaries have won numerous awards, been shown on all continents, and licensed by a number of television stations. Her work originates in many languages (Swahili, Afrikaans, Isixhosa, Sepedi among them) and has been distributed in different language versions, (English, Spanish, French, Polish). She has trained and mentored other filmmakers and advised the directors of an Oscar nominated documentary Long Night’s Journey into Day (2000). She is a member of the international scientific committee of the UNESCO Slave Route Project, where she advises on film projects. As a member of this committee she was invited by the Colombian Ministry of Culture to screen her films in nationwide tours (2012 and 2013). Bridget entered the visual arts through her film Ernest Mancoba at Home (1995) which led her to curate In the Name of all Humanity, the African spiritual expression of Ernest Mancoba (2006-2007), the founding project of the Arts and Ubuntu Trust, which she directs. The Trust provides training and materials to supplement formal art education. Bridget is currently producing a multi-media series, The South African Arts, Past and Present.

Deirdre Prins-Solani has served as Director of the Centre for Heritage Development in Africa (based in Kenya); Head of Public Programs and Education at the Robben Island Museum and World Heritage Site; Chairperson of the South African Museums Association (SAMA); President of the International Council of African Museums (AFRICOM); a committee member of the Institutions of Public Culture (an Africa/ USA collaboration between the academy, practitioners in public culture, museums and galleries); committee member of the Board to the African Program in Museum and Heritage Studies; and a member of the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) National Standards Body for the Arts and Culture sector. She is a Salzburg Global Seminar Fellow and Resource Person; and an UNESCO accredited expert to the 2003 Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). She has developed materials for the Global Strategy for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage and conducted numerous training and advocacy activities to ensure its implementation. She provides policy and strategic planning support to cities and state parties in the African and Caribbean regions. She serves as heritage advisor to the International Coalition of Historic Sites of Exclusion and Resistance Network.

Elizabeth Rankin is Professor Emeritus of the University of Auckland. She was for many years Professor of the History of Art at the University of the Witwatersrand, where her special research interests lay in sculpture and printmaking, often with a focus on the recovery of unrecorded histories of black artists. She has maintained these interests alongside her work in New Zealand, particularly through her collaborative research with Philippa Hobbs, with two books written together since she left South Africa: Rorke’s Drift: Empowering Prints (2003) and Listening to Distant Thunder: the art of Peter Clarke (2011/ 2014). As well as publishing, she has curated a number of exhibitions in South Africa and New Zealand. It was while working on an exhibition and catalogue for the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 1997, Printmaking in a Transforming South Africa, again with Philippa Hobbs, that she first became acquainted with the prints of Lionel Davis, and she got to know him and his work well over the years whilst researching such topics as CAP and Rorke’s Drift.

Ernestine White was born in Cape Town and is Curator of Contemporary Art at the Iziko South African National Gallery (ISANG). She spent a decade living in the United States and returned to South Africa in 2001. Ms White holds a Bachelors degree in Fine Art cum laude (State University of Purchase College, New York, 1999); a Master Printer degree in Fine Art Lithography (Tamarind Institute, New Mexico, 2001); a Masters degree in Fine Art (Michaelis School of Fine Art, UCT, 2004); and a Honours degree in Curatorship (Michaelis School of Fine Art, 2013). Ernestine White obtained her initial curatorial experience working as the Exhibitions Coordinator and subsequently Senior Projects Coordinator for the Parliamentary Millennium Programme (2004- 06, 2007- 11). She also worked as the Collections Manager for ISANG (2003- 04). Career highlights include curating the retrospective of Penny Siopis (ISANG, 2014) and recently being appointed as a member of the National Arts Festival’s Artistic Committee. As an independent artist Ms. White’s work can be found in major collections in South Africa as well as in the United States. Ernestine White’s most recent accomplishment was the inclusion of her artwork into permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

Jacqueline Nolte has been Dean of Arts at the University of the Fraser Valley, Canada, since 2010. Previously, she was Head of the Visual Arts Department at UFV where she taught Art History and Theory and, prior to that, she taught Art History and Theory in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town. Her doctorate (University of Cape Town, 2001) is entitled The Location and Dislocation of Space in the Lives and Works of Contemporary Women Artists Working in South Africa. Publications include “Narratives of Migration in the Works of Noria Mabasa and Mmakgabo Sebidi,” in Between Union and Liberation: Women Artists in South Africa 1910-1994 (ed. Marion Arnold and Brenda Schmahmann, 2005); “Ownership of the Community Arts Project (CAP), 1976-1997,” Africa South Art Initiative, 26 May 2011); “Women’s citizenship and identity in Stó:lō Territory: a collective essay from the University of the Fraser Valley’s Lens Project,” co-authored with Stephanie Gould, Shirley Hardman and Sarah Ciurysek with Jessica Bennett, Andrea Smith and Jennifer Janik, in Home/Land Women, Citizenship, Photographies (ed. Marion Arnold and Marsha Meskimmon, 2016). She was active at CAP for many years, and served as chairperson of the Board of Trustees.

Mario Pissarra is the founder and director of the Africa South Art Initiative (ASAI), a non-profit company that researches and publishes resources, mostly online ( He is committed to developing an Africa-centred art history ‘from below’ and has written numerous texts on art and artists, with an emphasis on publishing open access material. His research focuses on the aesthetics of decolonisation. Pissarra project managed and was the chief editor of the four volume, multi-authored Visual Century: South African art in context, 1907 – 2007 (Wits University Press, 2011). He has curated several exhibitions, notably Against the Grain (Iziko South African National Gallery and Sanlam Art Gallery, 2013- 14); and co-curated Beyond Binaries (International Conference Centre, Durban; Durban Art Gallery; and KZNSA Gallery, 2016- 17). A former director of the Community Arts Project (CAP), Pissarra has lectured on canonical and contemporary African art at the Universities of Cape Town (UCT) and Stellenbosch; and presented public talks in Botswana, Mozambique, Portugal, Senegal, UK, and the USA. Pissarra studied
Fine Arts and History of Art at UCT, and Adult Education at the University of the Western Cape. He is registered for a PhD at UCT.

Patricia 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 working as an illustrator, writer and editor.

Philippa Hobbs is a PhD candidate at the University of Johannesburg and research associate at the University of Johannesburg Research Centre: Visual Identities in Art and Design. She is a South African artist, researcher and curator, who has published numerous historical and educational art books on marginalised artists and art forms during the apartheid period, notably Printmaking in a Transforming South Africa (1997), Rorke’s Drift: Empowering Prints (2003) and Listening to Distant Thunder: the art of Peter Clarke (2011) (all co-authored with Elizabeth Rankin). Hobbs holds a Higher Diploma in Fine Art (Printmaking) from the Technikon Witwatersrand and a Masters Degree in History of Art from the University of the Witwatersrand. From 1979 to 1995 she lectured at the Technikon Witwatersrand. Her PhD research focuses on the pictorial tapestries made by women at the Evangelical Lutheran Church Art and Craft Centre, Rorke’s Drift.

Thembinkosi Goniwe, an artist and art historian, is a visiting researcher at the Wits School of Arts. Goniwe has known Lionel Davis since the late 1980s, when in high school he attended part-time art classes at the Community Arts Project (CAP). In the early 1990s, Goniwe studied with Davis at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town (UCT). Goniwe has taught fine art and art history at CAP, Sivuyile Technical College, UCT, University of the Witwatersrand, University of Fort Hare and Vaal University of Technology. His artworks have been exhibited locally and internationally. He has contributed essays to various publications and curated Andrew Tshabangu: Footprints, Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg and Grahamstown (2017); Towards Intersections: Negotiating Subjects, Objects and Contexts, Unisa Art Gallery and Museum Africa (2015); Where Do I End You Begin, City Center Edinburgh Arts Festival (2014); Impressions of Rorke’s Drift: The Jumuna Collection, Durban Art Gallery, and Museum Africa in Johannesburg, Grahamstown National Arts Festival and Iziko South African National Gallery (2013-2014); Desire: Ideal Narratives in Contemporary South African Art, 54th Venice Biennale (2011); SPace: Currencies in Contemporary African Art, Museum Africa, Johannesburg (2010).

Tina Smith is head of exhibitions at the District Six Museum. She is a fine arts graduate and holds a higher diploma in education from the University of Cape Town. As an arts educator and cultural activist from the 1980s, she participated as a volunteer artist in the creative production of the inaugural District Six Museum exhibition, Streets: Retracing District Six (1994), and later joined the staff (2006). She became closely invested in the Museum’s curatorial practice, working with the testimonies and stories of displaced communities and is now instrumental in maintaining its curatorial vision. Her key interest is using creative mediums as a restorative process to assist in the retrieval and reconstruction of memory. The recent publication of the District Six Huis Kombuis Food and Memory Cookbook, which she conceptualised and produced, demonstrates how the collective memory of District Six derives meaning, dignity and relevance. She has worked on numerous heritage projects including exhibitions for the Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island, the Alexandra Renewal Project, Iziko Museum’s Slave Lodge and Digging Deeper (the District Six Museum’s permanent exhibition). Her most recent work is Lionel Davis’ retrospective exhibition, Gathering Strands, which she co-curated through the District Six Museum.


Copies of Awakenings: The Art of Lionel Davis can be purchased directly from ASAI.

Alternatively, the book can be purchased from the following outlets:


Clarke’s Bookshop

District Six Museum

Kalk Bay Modern

SMAC Galllery (Cape Town and Stellenbosch)


Adams Bookshop Musgrave

Ike’s Bookshop

KZNSA Gallery Shop


David Krut Bookstore

SMAC Galllery 


Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac