Robyn Williams

Artist Catalogue

Virtual Exhibition


Mirage is about navigating the deeper histories of a generational trauma of swimming and (drowning) in the Cape.

In November 2021, I lost a close friend to an accidental drowning at the Silvermine dam, Cape Town. I was left on one side of the dam watching him swim across to the other side. That day the heat from the sun hitting the surface of the dark waters in the dam created a mirage, an optical illusion making the other side of the bank look closer than it was. It gave a false sense of confidence that the opposite side could be easily reached. It was a traumatic experience, and the memory of the day would replay itself in my head.

To deal with the trauma and loss I began working with water and memory in my photographs. The images represent how reality seems to be somewhat of a blur when you are trying to grapple with loss. This led me to create abstracted imagery focusing on bodies of water. I created surreal waterscapes that offer a way for me to navigate my connection with water again. In turn creating these waterscapes helped me to escape the negative emotions I had with the bodies of waters I was once familiar with.

Another way I had dealt with the trauma and loss was to recreate the surreal dreams I had. Which lead to the video piece “There is life after death”. “There is life after death” is based off a dream where water streams down on me from an unknown source. However, the water is not violent and heavy but gentle. It prompts me to leave the space where I often found myself, at times, struggling to leave. The space being the past and the traumatic memories. The video could speak of the overwhelming emotions I had with water and dealing with the loss. But the dream also represents the idea of water being about rebirth and life. As much as water is unpredictable, it is still a giver of life.

As I dealt with my own experience of loss It prompted me to think about whether there were more people that experienced the loss of a loved one due to drowning in the Cape. I began looking into my families’ experiences and found there was an unspoken generational trauma. Where my family experienced a loss of loved ones, to drowning and swimming during Apartheid. Their experiences and my own narrative are recorded in the form of zines. The zines record intimate information of their experiences of swimming recreationally in Cape Town and highlights the unspoken truths of how the revoked Apartheid laws, such as the Separate Amenities act of 1953, affected my family’s life and countless others that still need to be heard.