Sue Williamson

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South African Artist and writer

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Litchfield, England

Sue Williamson was born in Litchfield, England in 1941. Her family immigrated to South Africa in 1948. Williamson studied at the Art Students' League in New York from 1963-65. In 1983 she was awarded an Advanced Diploma in Fine Art from the Michaelis School of Fine Art, Cape Town (UCT).


Williamson was trained as a printmaker, but also works in installation, constructed objects, photographic images and video, addressing social issues or aspects of contemporary history. Her work boldly demonstrates where she stands, and she is unsparing in her criticism of her country’s institutions, in her own words, ‘We’re in the process of coming to terms with the past. I think that, before we can move on, we have to reach a point where we can find our way to a solution and say: OK, we’ve confronted our past as intensively as possible.’


In the 1980s, Williamson was well known for her series of portraits of women involved in the country's political struggle. A Few South Africans (figure 1 and 2) went some way towards filling the representational void of people and events during apartheid. Her recent video work focusing on South African immigrants is a return to this concern; her Better Lives series (2003, figure 3) is a series of six filmed portraits of people that came to Cape Town from other parts of Africa to secure new lives for themselves and their families.

The series tells the six accounts, pre-recorded and played back to the subjects who listen to their statements while being filmed. They listen to their stories of surviving in an often hostile and xenophobic South Africa, where competition for work and resources is fierce. In most her works, including her ‘Better Lives’ portraits and the ‘a few South African’s series’, Williamson empowers her subjects with visibility and presence, by giving voice to those who are consistently not heard.


From 1991-2 Williamson served as Chairperson of the Visual Arts Group, part of the Cultural Workers Congress in Cape Town. She is a Founder Member of the arts organization 'Public Eye'.

Williamson also writes and lectures about art. She is the published author of two respected books; Art in South Africa: the Future Present and Resistance Art in South Africa. She is also founding editor of Art Throb a website on contemporary art in South Africa ( Her first career as a journalist and subsequent move into copy writing for the advertising industry provided good grounding for her literary career.

Today Williamson is an internationally recognised artist who frequently exhibits on major museum shows around the world. Her work is represented in most South African and some international museum collections. Currently, Williamson works and lives in Cape Town, South Africa. She has a studio at 160 Sir Lowry Road in the City.

• Bester, R. (2005), Review of Sue Williamson’s better lives exhibition, from  artsouthafrica, (March -April), [online], Available at [Accessed 08 September 2011]
• Gurney, K, (2003), SUE WILLIAMSON, from ARTTHROB, November, [online] Available at  [Accessed 08 September 2011]
• Sue Williamson, from the Goodman Gallery, [online] Available at [Accessed 08 September 2011]
• Bedford. E and Perryer. S (2004). 10 Years 100 Artists: Art In A Democratic South Africa. Published by Struik
• Thanks to Sue Williamson who provided information for this biography.

Last updated : 18-Nov-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011