The Spring Queen pageant is one of the largest and longest standing pageants in history. It is a unique annual event in which female factory workers from the clothing and textile industry in the Western Cape take to the ramp and model. They showcase not only beauty, but also personality and style. The pageant began in the late 1970s and was at its height in the late 1980s. Even though its apotheosis may have waned, it remains a highlight on the Cape Town social calendar. There are up to 10 000 excited and jubilant supporters attending the final event which is hosted by the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) at the Good Hope Centre in Cape Town. Spring Queen fever begins around June/July each year. Thousands of women participate in in-house factory pageants. A factory Queen is then chosen along with a first and second princess. The factory Queens represent their factories and participate in the semi finals held at the SACTWU hall at its head offices in Salt River. The women who make it through the semi finals, anything between 40 and 60 women, go on to compete in the grand affair that is the SACTWU Spring Queen competition held in November. The coveted title of the SACTWU Spring Queen, the Queen of Queens, is awarded, along with a first and second Princess, as well as a Miss Personality and a Miss Best Dressed.
The SACTWU Spring Queen pageant is not a traditional fashion and beauty pageant. For several years local talent was also showcased with dancers and singers taking to the stage. The event also promotes the message of supporting South African products and industry. Along with the finale that showcases glamorous, extravagant and sometimes even daring ball-gowns, there is also a casual wear section where the participants are divided into groups and model local designs from sponsoring factories. The pageant is advertised as an event that aims to assist in positioning Cape Town as one of the fashion capitals of the world through its presentation of locally produced fabrics and designs. In recent years, with the closure of many textile and garment companies, and with job layoffs a harsh reality, this remains beauty with a purpose – the crowning of the Proletariat Queen.
This exhibition has engaged with the various collections of the Spring Queen pageant, from the private to the public, and aims to imagine another kind of archive, one where the past weaves its way through the present, and where temporality and spatiality is disturbed. This will be a space for connectivity, creativity, storytelling, and the re-imaging and re-imagining of history. This archive will seek to assert its position within the larger historical narrative of South Africa, and particularly that of the Western Cape. The Spring Queen pageant shows us that things are not always what they seem to be, that history, instead of affording us answers as to make the present comprehensible, involves narratives that remind us of the variance of daily life. It is here that we can discover unexpected acts of freedom, where those women framed, marked, named and burdened by oppression and the label of otherness, enact the rite to creativity. It is here that these predominantly “coloured” working-class women take to the stage in a public display to imagine and dream of an image of the beyond.