Remembering Leigh Davids

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Iziko South African National Gallery

“To survive living on the streets of Cape Town you just need to give them that theatre moment... It’s about the look. A transwoman who looks like me, with drowsy eyes, like any other beautiful woman....it becomes financially viable.”


Sex work and transgender activist, Leigh Davids, passed away on 27 February 2019 and was buried near her home in the informal settlement, Blikkiesdorp in Cape Town, South Africa. Davids was one of the major role players in the realisation of the series of installations calledinterseXion, which was showcased at the Iziko South African National Gallery in 2018. 

Davids brought to life the installations she worked on, collaborating with artist Robert Hamblin in unique ways. Her dynamic presence was not only visible in the images and many quoted texts on the walls of the exhibition space – rather, her powerful performances and spoken words at the exhibitionwalkabouts and special events were known to inspire great compassion and understanding in individuals. Davids sought to highlight the lives of black, transgender women and their challenges with poverty – asking society to reflect on the work still needed to be done in achieving equality and happiness for all.

Davids passed away two weeks before her 40th birthday, which sadly underscores one of her powerful quotes seen at interseXion last year: “International studies show that an inordinate amount of poor black transgender people turn to sex work at a very young age to support themselves and escape the violence from their homes and schools. The studies show they have an average life expectancy of about 30 to 32 years. We have no studies in South Africa but since 2011 we have photographed 30 black transwomen sex workers for this project. Five of us have died not reaching the age of 40”.

“We will miss our sister who always brought the fire when we often felt we could not go on.”  said Netta Marcus, coordinator of The SistaazHood support group for transwomen. Marcus, Davids and artist Robert Hamblin were three of the co-founders of the support group who lobby for the decriminalisation of sex work and for transgender rights. The series of interseXion installations, photographs and voice works were the group’s first advocacy project, and took seven years to complete collaboratively.

“Rest in power Leigh. Our work here goes on.”

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– Leigh Davids

Iziko Museums of South Africa would like to extend condolences to the family, friends and comrades of Leigh Davids. We are proud to have known this fiery spirit, and to have collaborated with The Sistaazhood, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) and Robert Hamblin in presenting the ground-breaking interseXion exhibition at ISANG.