After a relaxing morning of e-mailing and blogging, we were all eager to visit the District 6 Museum. Feeling rested and ready, the van carried us off to the city bowl. Though quite small, the museum was not lacking in information, and was constructed in a creative and innovative way. With no designated path through the exhibition, and no single narrative, visitors were invited to explore at their leisure. Following our initial solo browsing through the exhibition, we embarked on a tour with a passionate and charismatic woman named Mandy. She explained to us the museum’s mission to recreate and redefine the community from the ruins of apartheid’s destruction, and gave us the history of its origin. What I found fascinating (besides, you know, everything) is that the District 6 Museum is not a product of democracy, but rather of resistance. While the historical museums we’ve visited in South Africa thus far were all constructed in a post-apartheid world, this particular establishment was built during the 80’s – a politically turbulent period when the mere existence of it was considered illegal.
Mandy also emphasized the fluidity of the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed, which is a theme that manifested itself in Candace Breitz’s exhibition, Extra!, that we saw at the National Gallery this morning. Breitz’s project conveys the awkwardness and confusion of being the figurative white elephant in the room. By superimposing images of herself on to screenshots from Generations, a South African soap opera that documents the rise of the black middle class, she creates visual images that evoke feelings of discomfort and confusion.
Though white people once played the starring acts on South Africa’s historical stage, there has been a transversal of roles. The oppressors have now become the oppressed, leaving them to reevaluate what it means to be white in contemporary South Africa.