I interviewed Alta Brandt. She is officially the Textile Conservator at Iziko Social History Centre, but she actually works with all of the objects in the collection and also plays a role in the setup and takedown of exhibits. Basically, she does everything.
I was lucky enough to convince her to let me interview her. She was originally too nervous since she’s not very comfortable with English, but she finally agreed. And I think she did a great job. Our interview is as follows:
How did you get started in museums? And how did you get to where you are now?
I was starting as a domestic worker. The woman I was working for was a textile conservator. This was eleven years ago, and so I love needlework, that’s why I’m a textile conservator, I love needlework, and then she trained me how to restore textiles and stuff. And then she started getting cancer, so I had to take over. Most of the museums in Cape Town was [sic] our agents, so that’s how I started working in museums; I would go everywhere, every museum. Most of the museums here know me.
How did you get this job here?
Context, because I was working also here, with that woman. She was the only textile conservator in Cape Town… and I was working with her. That’s why every museum knows me, because when they have something they contact me.
Are you happy where you are now or do you think you might want to do more or do something different?
Yes, because here at the moment I learn a lot because I was only in textiles, how to conserve textiles, or restore it. But now at Iziko museum I learn about ceramics, how to handle ceramics, silver, and a lot of stuff that I didn’t know. So it’s a big challenge for me, because I learn a lot of everything.
What are the biggest challenges in your job?
The biggest challenge I had was the dummies I had to make for the isishweshwe exhibition because it was the biggest project I ever done [sic]. So it was a lot of work, so it was one of my biggest challenges. Because most of the time I work on private stuff, so I do one thing now and then two, three weeks after that I do another stuff. But that was a big challenge because it was a lot of work.
What have been your biggest successes in your career, what are you the most proud of?
I think the Isishweshwe exhibition. I am very proud of it, because it was the biggest challenge that I had and I really think I made a success of it. I put everything [I had] in.
What advice do you have for people starting out in the museum field?
To work in a museum and to work with objects, you must be very positive of what you’ve done and you have to know what you’ve done.
I think what I learned most from Alta was that you have to have a passion for what you do and you have to take pride in what you do. Her advice really stuck out at me and I’ll always keep it in mind. You really need to recognize your successes and be proud of yourself for having those successes if you want to be happy in your career. And I think that is especially true when you work in a museum or any other type of non-profit organization.