• Expressive Arts Research Project

    The Expressive Arts research project forms part of the District Six Museum’s ongoing memory work aimed at reconstructing the past by using oral histories as an entry point.

    The three themes that frame the activities which fall under the description of performing and expressive arts are intricately linked forming part of an organic whole. However, there are elements which are particular to each of the different themes and for the purpose of clarity they are described separately. In practice they are much more organically linked.

    read more about the reminiscence theatre program


    Sponsored by the NLDTF

    For more information contact education@districtsix.co.za


    The Expressive Arts research project forms part of the District Six Museum’s ongoing memory work aimed at reconstructing the past by using oral histories as an entry point.

    The three themes that frame the activities which fall under the description of performing and expressive arts are intricately linked forming part of an organic whole. However, there are elements which are particular to each of the different themes and for the purpose of clarity they are described separately. In practice they are much more organically linked.

    Emile Jansen (Heal the Hood, Black Noise) performing at the District Six Museum Homecoming Centre with members of the ‘Mixed Mense’ crew in 2012.

    ‘Mixed Mense’ freestyling at the Homecoming Centre in 2012

    The creative work of CPUT surface design students on display as part of the inaugural Reminiscence Theatre Festival, 30 – 2nd December 2012

    Cabaret artist, Peter Treurnicht as ‘Roxy’ performing at the launch of a Mustapha Hendricks film –‘ Roxy dragged Peter to the show’, part of the ‘Honour your voice’ programme on the opening night of the Reminiscence Theatre Festival,

    Youth participating in designer Micah Chisholm’s lamp making workshop, December 2012



    The Museum explores how to inscribe intangible heritage alongside tangible heritage, so that the discourses around materiality especially in connection with the rebuilding of the District, do not overshadow the less concretised aspects of culture, memory and return. Our sense is that nothing less than a privileging of aurality in relation to visuality is needed to move beyond its mere accommodation or incorporation into the process of framing significance for national heritage. Music can play a pivotal role in this privileging of the intangible heritage of District Six and Cape Town, and in forging new ways of memorialising culture and history for the city, province, country and continent.

    Music and performance forms an essential part of the returning social and cultural landscape in District Six. Embedded in the heart of cultural forms of expression lies the ability to make inter-generational links across diverse communities. The large ex-resident community relates – either positively or negatively - to particular styles of performance based on their history and experience with them; contemporarily, the newer and younger community can be encouraged to appreciate and relate this to their current and preferred musical and performance styles. Using ongoing and new platforms, the evocative power of music can be reigned in as a community-building and empowering practice, not just in District Six as a site of return, but in other communities that have experienced dispossession and the trauma of removal.

    District Six prior to destruction was a vibrant, mixed-economy community. The energy of communal activities was driven by the routines, rituals and traditions created by the life- and work-patterns of regular working people living in close proximity to each other. At the same time, it was home to a range of acknowledged intellectuals, artists, musicians, political leaders and writers who contributed towards and were supported by their community in organic ways which have not been replicated on the same scale after the destruction of the area. The evolution of community activities associated with the area – the musical traditions, performative processions, dance-hall activities, dramatic societies, sports life and avid cinema-going – flourished during the community’s hey-day, particularly in the decade before forced removals. A lust for life which persisted despite some of the perversities which befell peoples’ daily lives, contributed to the resilient community spirit.

    The space which was District Six helped people of Cape Town and beyond, to own the city in ways which have not again been possible since the destruction. A strong link existed with the inner city itself, where many people from the area worked and where others chose to spend their leisure hours. The ability to walk the streets of a neighbourhood – which included the city just a stone’s throw away– is one of the ways of expressing familiarity and ownership, a practice which was lost at destruction. ‘The streets of District Six were special public spaces because of their scale and intensity of use…they afforded views to the sea, the mountain and city’ (Le Grange 2003: 17). They were places of negotiation, conflict resolution, entertainment, commerce, carnival and play.

    ‘Streets’ in the various areas of the Cape Flats have developed a very different connotation as being places of danger to be avoided. Getting off the streets as soon as possible have become the way that many people engage with township streets and public spaces. Michel de Certeau (1984: 97) refers to the ability of citizens to walk the streets of their neighbourhood as ‘pedestrian speech acts’ which are within themselves ‘a process of appropriation of the topographical system on the part of the pedestrian’ (de Certeau 1994: 94). The inability to be part of contributing to these pedestrian speech acts certainly affects the health of the fabric of community, contributing to the range of pathologies associated with township life and which might be replicated within the reality of the returned community.

    The range of activities which fall under the broad umbrella of performing and expressive arts are designed so as to support the Museum’s objectives for the 2009-2011 period: to reconnect with community, to build a city ‘of people not races’, and to build the Cultural Heritage Precinct.