For fifteen years, tracts of land in District Six have stood empty in response to a community's anguish. Until the recent process towards restitution, there has been a strong reluctance to disturb the silent witness of this political landscape. In a remarkable instance of collaboration amongst communities, organisations, and artists, the District Six Sculpture Festival revitalised this space and re-marked it as a heritage site which heralded the return of community life to District Six.
The District Six Sculpture Festival was a project born out of the inspiration, energy and incentive of a large group of people. It was actively adopted as a project by the Museum in March 1997, when a steering committee was established to guide the project forward. This committee consisted of a number of stakeholders namely: the District Six Museum, the District Six Civic Association, the District Six Restitution Committee, the Department of Art, Culture Science and Technology, the Cape Town City Council, the National Monuments Council, the South African National Gallery, the Association for Visual Arts and the District Six Development Forum.
Each of these organisations was individually approached and informed of the proposed project, and was asked to respond to the proposal, offering ideas or criticisms for the project. It provided artists with a sense of access to other artists, institutions, material suppliers, funding possibilities and new art mediums. Furthermore it introduced new possibilities in art making and curating to institutions and the public at large.
The aim of the project was to mark the space, history and future of the land of District Six, as well as to establish it as a heritage site - one which would remind us of the tragedy of forced removals and which would claim public space for all those removed from the land. It also aimed to highlight the importance of people in the creation of heritage and history, and the part they play in re-marking the land.
The project was intended to promote a public culture of sculpture, highlight the work of local sculptors; draw local sculptors together from diverse backgrounds and enhance the district after redevelopment. A further aim was to initiate a public awareness of sculpture and the part it could play in re/looking at certain spaces. The aim was to encourage people to engage in works and debates around those works and to look at ’public art’ that was not preserved for eternity by its medium (bronze, steel, etc.), but that would instead be detrimentally affected by the elements and time. Many artists were involved in and inspired by the protest around the tragedy of District Six. We realised that a large open air sculptural festival could use the landscape to make a final statement and protest against forced removals. It was decided that the artists could make a personal decision about the time period their works would remain on site. It was therefore decided that some of the works need not last longer than the duration of the exhibition. In fact some would be symbolically destroyed by the redevelopment of the land early in 1998.