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Do our Museums Need to be Transformed?

By 3rd October 2018May 20th, 2019News

Last week Bongi Gwala hosted an interesting discussion on the topic of transformation, and whether or not South African museums have fully transformed. His guest speaker was the impassioned actress, writer and performance poet, Lebogang Mashile.

Writer and performance artist, Lebo Mashile

Writer and performance artist, Lebo Mashile

The discussion centred around three ideas of transformation:

  1. Transformation in terms of the art and artefacts that museums hold;
  2. The relationship between artists and galleries; and
  3. Public access to museum and gallery spaces.

From Mashile’s point of view it seems that South Africa is doing well regarding museum content being representative of the country’s history. She references the Iziko Museum in Cape Town where she says she learned more about the history of slavery in South Africa in three hours that she has through any other means. In terms of artists’ relationships with museums and galleries, Mashile’s is also fairly positive:

There are so many people in South Africa who appreciate…..genuine voices, even if you sometimes don’t see that reflected in our mainstream”

Iziko Slave Lodge, Cape Town

Iziko Slave Lodge, Cape Town

It is regarding access to museums where Mashile believes that a problem exists. Art galleries and museums tend to be centralised in city centres, which many people don’t have the means to visit. Beyond physical locations, there’s also the issue of art and history not being something that’s prioritised in South African society, where the arts are often deemed to be a luxury. According to Mashile, as a society we’re failing to recognise the essential role that the arts play in shaping our world, and the good that art can do when it comes to healing a nation like South Africa.

Being an artist is about being a critical thinker and contributing to the the conversation and consciousness of your country.

At Durban Local History Museums we are constantly trying to extend our reach beyond the boundaries of the museum walls in an effort to become more inclusive, and to engage more people. This includes our digital projects like the Ulwazi Programme and Amandla: Durban Liberation Heritage Route.  It’s great to hear conversations like the one between Bongi Gwala and Lebogang Mashile taking place as it can only help to move things forward!

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