Finding Space Between Community and Market

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Our second day Capetown started out with a visit to the Capetown Craft and Design Institute (CCDI), a space that seemed to blur the line between the community and market. CCDI is fosters the “business sector.” Among hosting numerous workshops for design entrepreneurs for them to develop and test their products, they also have begun to work with elementary schools in the US to support arts and visual education at an early age and also produce public art installations. Several interesting concepts of design were brought up in our conversation, which included: what is the difference between art, craft, and design? How museums can serve a role in this? How can design be socially engaged?

It was interesting to hear that CCDI does not try to distinguish between art and design. They found this argument pointless to engage in because there is so much overlapping. Their dialogue with museums and cultural institutions seemed to be very distant too and their attention was focused on product making and innovating. Design was always relatable to me. TV shows such as “How It’s Made” on Discovery Channel, and exhibitions in the design section of MoMA, make the concept of design interesting because it brings objects from our daily lives into discussion. Everyday things such as cellphones, video games, CD players, toothbrushes can all be examined as design objects. Even these notions of design are interesting for museums to address and CCDI could potentially start these conversations with museums.

All this time, I couldn’t help but question the need for making more and more stuff. Thinking back to our visit to Kliptown last week, the products that are made from this program seem to be so far from what people need. Basic necessities are barely met, and yet, more “stuff” needs to be made. I was surprised also by the amount of government money they receive. The language in their marketing materials seemed to translate well with these government funders. If their practice is generating jobs at incredible rates, then why not get the support that they need. Even though job numbers are high, are they ensuring proper wages and good working environments?

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In the afternoon, we went to a very different space in the same neighborhood: the District Six Museum, which documents the forced removal of families from the neighborhood during Apartheid. Walking into the museum, I immediately felt a sense of warmth that reminded me of a local church in my neighborhood back home. The smell of the old wood, the photo frames and welcoming staff made this a very unique space that preserved heritage. This is the strongest sense of “heritage,” I think I’ve experienced on this trip. Despite the number of tourists that were visiting, it felt in no way touristy at all.

We did an activity where we had to select one curatorial decision in the museum and discuss the relevancy, transparencyIMG_2329 and community of this decision. I chose to talk about an embroidery project the museum did with women from the district about family recipes. This was shown right outside the cafe, so we heard sounds from the silverware and smelled the cooking from the kitchen. These recipes represented something that these people carried with them wherever they went and they were sharing this family recipes with us visitors. Every family has their set of recipes and this felts like intimate pieces they were sharing us. Next to each of these recipes were also hand written profiles that illustrated the journeys each of the contributing women experienced, adding another layer to the installation.

Our final museum visit for the day was the National Gallery. There we saw a several exhibitions including William Kentridge’s Refusal of Time and Omar Badsha’s Seedtime. I remember seeing the Kentridge piece at the Met last year, though the experience was entirely different. Here, the audio was much louder and we could feel the bass in the music in our chest. We also had the chance to visit his studio last week, so seeing all of these megaphones and props in progress for other exhibitions also let me piece together the work.

Badsha’s retrospective contained photographs, drawings and prints, which mainly documented the complexity of apartheid life for minority groups. Based on one of the wall texts, it was interesting to read that he did not consider himself an artist at one point and dropped his artistic practice to pursue political activism. The resulting images are just a part of what he felt like documenting and preserving moments from this time. According to another small wall label, we found out that apparently the drawings and prints were considered damaged and the National Gallery held a policy, which noted that they do not show damaged works. This is an odd rule that I’ve never heard of. We found that Farzanah Badsha, Omar Badsha’s daughter was the co-curator and we were also meeting tomorrow. It will be great to hear her perspective on exhibition making.

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In the evening we had dinner with the Odendaal family. It was a chance to hear about their family’s involvement with art and politics. We heard in more details about the removal of the Rhodes sculpture on the campus of University of Capetown several months ago. The protests to the administration were entirely student organized. We learned the media reduced the event down to a student protest that led to taking down the sculpture, even though there was actually a whole lot more to it. Beyond just the removal of the monument, students were also pushing for changes in curriculum. They hosted weekly seminars and events that gathered faculty and students together to discuss greater issues of black consciousness and gender. Wherever we are there is tension between students and administration. In the US, the first issue I thought of was sexual assault on campus and how it is often covered up by the administration. Beyond universities, similarly we saw in the US a dispute about the waving of the confederate flag. This flag, like the Rhodes monument represented an outdated and painful history.

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