The Kewpie Project
The Kewpie collection is the personal photographic collection of Kewpie, a hairdresser and drag queen who lived in Cape Town’s District Six. There are around 700 photographic prints in the Kewpie collection as well as accompanying negatives, and the material spans the period 1950 to the early 1980s. Kewpie, whose given name was Eugene Fritz, was born in 1942. In the 1950s Kewpie started going to gay parties and became part of a queer community in District Six who were highly visible through their performances at shows and their attendance at balls in elaborate drag. Members of this community sometimes identified as gay men and sometimes identified as female, although their relationships with men were generally referred to as gay relationships. From what we know, Kewpie’s gender identity was fluid, and she did not strictly identify as either male or female. However, both Kewpie and her friends tended to use feminine pronouns for each other. 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 of the drag queens, 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 digitized.
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 helping to document 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, begun 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. Phase two, currently underway, involves conducting research, selecting images and preparing material for an exhibition about Kewpie’s life to be held at the District Six museum in Cape Town in 2018. The exhibition will provide an opportunity to personalize the lived District Six experience through one person’s life history, tell audiences about a vibrant sub-culture within District Six, and also demonstrate how much a part of the broader District Six community that sub-culture was. We hope the exhibition will introduce a new audience to a fascinating period of LGBTIQ social history and deepen historical understanding of the diverse District Six community.
image: Sodia and Kewpie at the Marie Antoinette Ball at the Ambassador Club (1967)