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For Thirty Years Next to His Heart
Sue Williamson
Artwork 1990
Sue Williamson’s framed grid of laser prints ‘For Thirty Years Next to His Heart’ depicts the inside pocket of a blazer and the pages of passbook.
Artwork: Sue Williamson, For Thirty Years Next to His Heart (1990). Colour laser prints in artist’s frames. 196 x 262 cm. Private collection.
Artist Sue Williamson Title For Thirty Years Next to His Heart Date 1990 Materials Colour laser prints in artist's frames Dimensions 196 x 262 cm Edition Artist's proof Credit Private collection

Williamson’s For Thirty Years Next to His Heart is a photographic portrait of John Ngesi told in forty-nine parts: from the inside pocket of a blazer and hand to the many pages of a passbook, filled with stamps and signatures. The work, which proceeds the 1986 repeal of the Pass Law, is a precise record of movement over time that documents the trap apartheid legislation held fast around black bodies.

In word, object and image, Sue Williamson gives to South Africa’s recent past a material reflection. Her commitment to historical verity is apparent in all her work, as is her archival inclination for accumulation. Trained as a printmaker and journalist – two disciplines that necessitate exactitude – there is to Williamson’s work a formal and conceptual rigour. Her early career in reportage has proved a lasting influence on her extended practice, instilling her preoccupation, the artist suggests, with “people’s exact words and precise narratives.” Williamson remains largely unconcerned with history’s overview, revisiting instead the stories of individual lives left untold. Using first- and second-hand accounts, found objects, photography and text, she returns to the nation’s history a more human expression.