Day 1: The syllabus arrived via e-mail. How exciting to see the much anticipated trip actually spelled out in print.
Reading, watching, and listening in the days before class began were enjoyable, informative, often thought provoking and extremely entertaining. The four class days spent discussing South African life, history, culture, and art in a museum context have been a wonderful experience that broadened the understanding that was begun with the individual work by adding a dimension of shared ideas and experiences.
We initially discussed South African life from a time of unrest and through the eyes of a native son who became a national leader. His early years were a formative experience that continued through his time in an educational system that also helped prepared him for leadership, decisive action, and dedicated commitment to society. Nelson Mandela’s story when interwoven with literature, art and cultural understanding becomes a representation of the Rainbow Nation that he later led.
When Apartheid ended, South Africa was left with many disparate groups, whether defined by race, political affiliation, economic status or culture. Literature, visual art, dance, music and sports all played transformative roles in South African history by bringing people together. They have also given voice to people who might have been ignored by or lost to the world. The stories of Michael K and Beauty represent the people and life that Nelson Mandela fought to give representation to in his quest for freedom, but so do the stories of Francois Pinnaar, and James Jarvis. Transformation takes place in these stories in all men just as it has had to do in a reality that is serious about rebuilding the basic needs of a functioning world community. Mandela understood the need for reconciliation instead of retribution in his years as leader and began this work sometimes in unusual ways.i.e.rugby. Morgan Freeman was interviewed by Jason Von Berg about the movie Invictus and playing Nelson Mandela. Freeman states that even though he was chosen by Mandela to play Mandela, his only concern about this movie was how it would impact South Africans. “Get it right or dont do it. My only fear was not to offend Sout Africans.”
It is a daunting task to rebuild a nation whose voice includes all voices. It is also a public issue. From this stand point museums are perfect places to help in this rebuilding. Museums are traditionally places of collecting, researching, preserving, exhibiting, and educating. Today in South Africa museums also need to carry on this work in ways that make a new national history accesible, accountable and relevant to a changing social environment which fosters reconciliation without denying or rewriting history. The challenges facing places like Robben Island and the District Six Museum are to collect, research, preserve, exhibit and tell the story in as true a form possible for all people.
On To South Africa!!!