Kewpie – Daughter of District Six

Kewpie

Photographic Collection

Kewpie was a well known and loved hairdresser and drag performer who lived in Cape Town's District Six in the '50s/'60's. GALA holds Kewpie's personal photo collection in the Archive. The Collection is made up of around 700 photographic prints and their accompanying negatives. The material spans the period 1950 to the early 1980s. Kewpie was born in 1942.

In the 1950s Kewpie started going to gay parties and became part of the highly visible queer community in District Six. This community often hosted highly anticipated parties, performing at shows, and their attendance at balls in elaborate drag. Members of this community called themselves the gays and the girls. Kewpie and her friends tended to use feminine pronouns for each other and called each other 'sisters'.

Most of the photographs in the collection were taken by Kewpie and friends, and show Kewpie’s extensive social life and social circle, both within District Six and further afield. The photographs depict the carefully crafted public personas in her queer community, and also their private ‘off-duty’ lives.

There are pictures from excursions to Fourth Beach and Trafalgar Park, photographs of Kewpie at work in the salon, photographs of elaborate fancy dress balls held at the Ambassador’s Club, portraits of Kewpie’s friends and neighbours, images from parties, snapshots taken of everyday life in the local area, and photoshoots of Kewpie’s friends on the streets of District Six.

The collection also includes studio portraits and images taken by street photographers. The vast majority of photographs in the collection have captions which Kewpie provided during the accessioning process in 1999, and most of the photographs have been digitised.

image: Olivia, Kewpie, Patti (all at back, L-R), Sue Thompson, Brigitte, Gaya, Mitzy (all in front, L-R) in Sir Lowry Road

The Kewpie collection is an unusual collection within the GALA archives, both for being purely photographic and also as a collection from the apartheid era that depicts a queer, working class, coloured community. It is an important resource that documents a community and place that has since been lost, and an ongoing project seeks to open up this unique collection and make it more accessible to researchers and wider audiences.

Phase one of the project, which began in 2017, involved arranging and re-numbering the collection, identifying conservation issues, rehousing the photographs, creating a comprehensive inventory and identifying and signposting to related material in the GALA archives.

Click here to see more from the Kewpie Photographic Collection featured in the Digital Transgender Archive.

Phase two involved conducting research, and putting together the exhibition, Kewpie - Daughter of District Six, which was co-curated by Jenny Marsden (a GALA volunteer at the time) and Tina Smith, the exhibitions curator at the District Six Museum (D6).

The exhibition was first held at the D6 in 2018, where a robust programme of events were catering to the D6 community, ex-residence of District Six and young queer people. The exhibition then travelled to The Market Photo Workshop in Johannesburg. 

Click here to see some pictures of the lead up to the opening of the exhibition.

Click Here to see pictures of the exhibition opening at the District Six Museum, on the 20th of September 2018, and a few follow up events. 

Now, a young generation of queer people based in Cape Town have adopted Kewpie as a local 'transestor' and look to her story as a basis for safe and creative spaces for the young queer community.

Watch a short documentary of the first Salon Kewpie - The Legcy Project, which was hosted at the D6 Museum in March 2023. 

Check out the instagram page for the Legacy Project here. 

Photos of the exhibition at the District Six Museum. Exhibition runs from 21 September 2018 - 18 January 2019. Photographs taken by Fayros Jaffer