Events: Iziko Museums – 'Our Museums, Your Museums'

2 Oct 2017 - 09:15
Presenters at Iziko Museum-hosted public seminar, “Our Museums, Your Museums”
Written by Laura Bratton


Two Wednesdays ago, 20 September, at 18:00, Iziko Museums hosted a public seminar, “Our Museums, Your Museums”. About 100 people gathered at Barry Lecture Theatre in the Iziko South African Museum (ISAM) to hear three presenters speak about their issues with art exhibits depicting “so-called primitive art” and indigenous history in museums around South Africa. The presenters - Sam Longford, Wandile Kasibe, and Ron Martin - say the exhibits show Khoisan and other African tribes as people “locked in time”. They say there needs to be “decolonisation of the museums”. 

Sam Longford, UWC PhD candidate, speaks about rock art displays. He says displays of rock art are shown in isolated spaces that look like “the animal kingdom”. The exhibits should be created to include the context of colonial violence, says Longford.

Ron Martin, Khoisan activist and heritage consultant, says that displays show the Khoisan as an extinct people rather than an “evolving history”. Martin says the Khoisan should have access to the archives of research and specimen held at foreign universities. He wants the Khoisan community to “reclaim their intellectual property” and to be recognized as the “first people in this country,” where they are still referred to as “the Khoisan question” rather than “the Khoisan people”. He calls for removal of exhibits showing timelines of Khoisan history, such as that at The Stellenbosch Village Museum. In their place, new displays should be made by the Khoisan that “tell their own stories and celebrate their own history”. Martin says he wants the Khoisan to have access “to ways and means of cultural expression”.

Wandile Kasibe, UCT PhD candidate, also discusses exhibits “placing Africans outside of human history”. “Indigenous people are reduced to the animal kingdom here,” says Kasibe. Reducing people to things, he says, is what lays the grounds for genocide. He says exhibits are a “perpetuation of colonial crimes against humanity”. He calls for the “fall of racial science” reflected in exhibits and an end to the “stereotypification of black bodies in museums”.

Kasibe ends his presentation with the question: “Who has the right to represent who? And for whose consumption?”