Ah so much happened. Sunday we climbed Table Mountain. That was hands down the most difficult thing I have ver done in my life. The views were worth it though.
This week we were moving around a bit at work. The first day was spent in the marine biology lab of the South African Museum. We met Wayne one of the marine biology curators at the Iziko. He asked use some hard questions about the role of museums and collections within a museum. According to him the most important part of a museum is the collection. Since his collection is scientific instead of art works the collection takes on a role beyond the exhibition as an archive for scientific research. South Africa is the third most biodiverse country in the world. The collection at the Iziko has about 5 million specimens documenting thousands of animal species. Of course when he spit out those numbers I was in awe, but it also made me think of museum collections in a new light. We are usually focused on the values to humans but the collections at a natural history museum can help use understand evolution, the environment, and the impact we have on the environment. It could probably also help influence environmental decisions moving forward.
The rest of the week I was with Amy, the exhibition designer for the Iziko. This was a totally new experience for me. Her job was to come up with the idea of how an exhibition would look and what the experience would be for visitors. with her I created mood boards, met with collections managers to discuss what would be displayed, met with the carpenters building the exhibitions, and held 200 million year old fossils!!! This week was super dope and I’m definitely considering this as a possible job option.
Friday we did out final presentations and said our goodbyes. It was bittersweet but i had a great experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
We started off the week with a day in the castle of Good Hope. We were helping the staff there prepare to open again for the the first time in years. We spent the morning dust busting! It was fun to be in a castle and the grounds were beautiful. We also got to see a mock key ceremony and a man fire a canon a few times. The castle was also a stark representation of a concept we spoke about a lot during our time so far. Decolonizing museums comes up often in conversation and I think this place is a prime example of the issues of colonialism in museums. Most of the artwork in the castle are paintings of grand Dutch ships on the sea. The artwork, mock presentations, and castle itself ring of colonial times. That being said they are still a part of South African history and heritage. The question for curators now is how to make this space more accessible to local visitors. It could be through dissecting the problematic history behind certain portraits or, making labels in Xhosa as well as English and Afrikaans.
We spent rest of this week on the mobile museum. . Using some of the printmaking techniques we learned in Johannesburg we led a workshop with the children on printmaking. Using styrofoam and pens the children created their own stamps and printed on paper. The other mobile museum days we went to libraries in different communities. It was interesting to see how museums functioned in Cape Town versus at home. Many of the places we visited had full day programs for children during the school holiday led by volunteers. At home we have programs at libraries that may last an hour or two but not something as intensive. I think the way they do it in South Africa is good though because it helps keep the kids out of trouble. At work this week was also bittersweet since the interns from Reunion Island who started the same time as us were leaving. On Thursday we had a potluck as a group with our supervisors. There was great food and wonderful company. Carol could not be there but she sent over cake and cookies for us which was sweet.
Week 2 we’re back at it again with the sewing poles. More artworks are starting to go up in the “Hidden Treasures” exhibition. It feel very satisfying to be able to look around and point out all the things you had a hand in. It has also been great to see the store rooms and touch the art. Carol, the curator, has a wealth of knowledge about the pieces she’s using and their cultural significance.
Tuesday we went on the mobile museum for the first time. The mobile museum is a large van that is used to bring the museum to children in urban areas that might not get a chance to come to the museum. It was fun. We led a bracelet making workshop after Sthembele gave a presentation on the museum and showed some artifacts. I was just as wide-eyed as the children at times. It’s not every day you see the backbone of a whale or a taxidermy penguin.
Friday was our trip to Parliament. It was nice and we got a lot of information from the tour guide. Some of it went over my head but I can say I learned much about South African government. We also got to meet other Iziko interns.
Week one was cool. We met the jovial Wandile and got a quick tour of several Iziko museums before starting at the social history center. There we have been assisting the conservators Jeanine and Bradley with the Hidden Treasures exhibition. The exhibitions centers on traditional clothing and other artifacts from the indigenous peoples of South Africa.The curator Carol is lovely and tells us the backstory to each of the piece on display as we work with it. If there is one skill I acquired this week it is sewing. I knew how to hand stitch but this week has cemented those skills in addition to me learning how to use a sewing machine.In our little room that we dubbed the “workshop” we were sewing away to make stands for the textile pieces for an exhibition. This week was pretty cool because we got to put up some art pieces. That doesn’t happen in America. we had a Fourth of July Braai in honor of Independence day. It was my first time grilling. After a couple calls to various dads and brothers we got the fire going and everyone had their fill. On Friday West Coast Fossil Park. It was super cool! I’ve never seen fossils so close up. It was kind of hard to believe they were real. We also got a tour of the new facilitates that they are building.Saturday we went to a rugby game. It is much harder to follow in person. To have the full experience we bought some food and cheered the home team on. They won so I think I can safely call the night a success.
We had a wonderful lazy day. After the jam packed week of exploring Cape Town the girls and I had some much needed rest and relaxation. It was great! A couple of us slept the morning away. Others enjoyed the sunny day on the porch. Still others caught up on some reading and journaling. All in all it was a day to recharge and mentally prepare for our new posts at the Iziko museums.
Today we said goodbye to Kruger and made our way to Cape Town. Of course we were said to leave but some kudu and monkeys stopped along the road to say their goodbyes which was nice. Our first stop was Nelspruit airport where we caught a flight to Johannesburg. The scenic mountain drive and mountain views from the airport were a lovely way to end our Kruger adventures. This flight was interesting. I had been on small planes before but never one this small. You really felt take off and landing but otherwise the flight was fine.
Our first flight landed in Johannesburg where we got a crash course in South African food court etiquette. Here there are designated tables for each food establishment. If, for example, you buy a Wimpy burger you cannot eat it at the pizzeria’s table. They are pretty strict about it. After a round of pizzas and an overdose on free wifi we headed to the gate for our flight to Cape Town.
After picking up our new van we made out way to our new home. No one knew what to expect but as usual Marit found us a sweet space! One long day over, many new adventures to go!
We spent a day in Kruger National Park. It was awesome!! We woke up at 5a.m. to head to the park(That part wasn’t so awesome). After getting all our paperwork done and scheduling a sunset safari, our group headed into the park. Although it was difficult to wake up so early, the sunrise definitely made it worth the effort. It was beautiful. We caught a large amount of animal activity that morning. It was quite exciting to drive across the little bridge into the main paths of the park. I had a feeling we would have a good day when we spotted hippos alongside the bridge on the way into the park. Just after entering the park we were greeted by a group of elephants crossing the road. There were maybe ten of them ranging from full grown adults to babies. The rest of the morning was pretty filled with sightings. We saw many impala which was exciting at first but there are some many that by the time we went on guided safari they had lost some charm. Often alongside the impala were zebras and giraffes. We learned that often these animals hangout together for protection. The Impala have great hearing, the giraffes have great vision, and zebra have a strong sense of smell. The animals work together to spot danger and alert the others when predators approach. This was one of the many fun facts we learned throughout the day. Many of the animals we saw were close up which was exciting. Early in the morning we saw a male lion. He walked around a little before sitting on the side of the road. We were the first car there so we got the prime spot for picture taking. Shortly after that our path was obstructed by a team of zebras. Four of them just lined up across the road and stared at the car as we stared back at them in a mini stand off. After a few minutes they walked away. We even ran into a family of monkeys on the side of the road. There was a short lull in the early afternoon where we watched many colorful birds followed by a short stop at a watering hole before lunch. The lake was filled with hippos on one side and crocodiles sunbathing on the other banks not to far away. The highlight of the day was elephants. First of we saw maybe fifty elephants in one day. We saw big ones, small ones, brown ones, and gray ones. We stumbled upon bath time for a group of elephants. It was a wonderful experience to watch the herd wade into the water, moms and babies, and play with one another. For us time barely passed but later on we found we had spent about 45 minutes watching elephants in the water. After lunch we raced back to the entrance to catch our sunset ride.The sunset ride was nice but our luck during the day made us spoiled. Our guide was very knowledgeable and he gave us many facts about what we saw. For example, hippos lay in the water all day and walk around at night. We saw impala, a few hippos eating grass, a couple porcupines, and a civet. I was surprised at how big the porcupines are. The main downside to the night drive is that the light often makes the animals leave. I don’t blame them though. I wouldn’t like strangers shining a bright light in my face either. After leaving the park we headed over to the Crocodile Kruger Safari Lodge for a traditional South African dinner. Everything was tasty. Elated and exhausted we headed back to our treehouse for some rest.
Overall day one at Kruger was way more than I could have hoped for. We saw so many animals! And many were up close. It was exciting to day the least but also interesting because of how many Disney references I had for the animals. My introduction to lions, wildebeests, hornbills and more was through Disney. After the day in the park Isadora and I were joking about watching Lion King once we got home. Although we couldn’t stop to take photos I was overjoyed when I saw rhinos. I had always assumed that they would be extinct before I got to see them due to poaching, but I can now say that I have seen them!
Today was jam packed! We set out bright and early to Thenjiwe Nkosi’s artist studio. Thenjiwe is a young South African artist focused on creating art that critiques and benefits communities. The main project she spoke to us about was called Border Farm. It is a project that is part theatre part video that tells the stories of Zimbabwean migrant workers on South African farms. Thenjiwe first asked if the migrant workers wanted to do the project, had several meetings to make sure people understood what it was, and proceeded to create the piece all the while working closely with the community she was filming. The film was broadcast throughout South Africa and received mixed reviews from those who participated. Many of the migrant workers felt the project had not gone far enough. They had expected to see bigger changes in their lives. That being said there were some good outcomes from the project. The leader on the farm that organized the theater parts of the piece used money from the project to go to college and buy a car. One thing Thenjiwe said was important to her is that her projects get “hijacked” meaning that the participants take it over and it hopefully continues after she leaves. This doesn’t always work out as intended but there are other positives that come out of the project. For examples members of the Border Farms team learned how to better understand contracts and bargain for fair wages. She was pretty cool. I liked how conscious she was of her privilege as an artist in terms of having the connections to networks within Johannesburg. She also made it a priority to make her projects truly about the communities she worked in not her own career. One thing that stuck out to me was when she said that she refuses to speak about Border Farms without representatives from the farm being present. In that way people get to retain ownership over their stories.
Next stop was the Market Square area where we visited Imabli and Artist Proof Studio. Imabli is an NGO that teaches people craft skills and gives them an opportunity to sell their work. The Imabli program is three years of free instruction. During this time participants learn sewing, ceramics, printmaking and business techniques. Imbali provides all the materials . On the tour we were so impressed with the potato prints one student made that we asked to get a demonstration. This of course was after we bought the entire shop. There were wonderful pieces in the store it was difficult to choose just one. Works that pass the quality check are sold in the Imabli shop with 40% going back to the artists. Imabli also teaches some business skills to students. We were shown a former student who sells his own prints in his township and in stores. One of the major issues for Imbali is funding.In addition to operation costs, they have many scholarships for students. They get government and private funds as well as a portion of the money from items sold.
At Artist Proof Studio we had out own printmaking workshop. Artist Proof Studio is a printmaking studio that functions as an education space and professional printer. The education program there is four years. The first three focus on printmaking with the final year as an internship to help students find their niche. Here we made prints by painting on a plastic sheet then putting paper over and running it through the press. This was loads of fun! Our printer Tumi kept our spirits high. There was an abundance of good vibes and good music that afternoon. After the workshop we had tea with Kim one of the founders of Artist Proof studio and she gave us a tour of the space. At the end of the tour, we met a couple other members of the staff and learned more about their funding. At Artist Proof Studio they spoke about the new competition they have now because of how well their students are doing. They are working on finding a model of education and business that focuses on education while allowing the business to thrive. One of their major sources is the sale of William Kentridge prints. When working with students there is usually a 50/50 split.
It was interesting comparing Imabli and Arist Proof Studio. Both organizations are focused on education and empowering people to work for themselves. Artist Proof Studio seems to be doing a bit better financially which allows them to do more for students. Some of that comes form the Kentrige prints but I was also wondering how much of Artist Proof’s success is due to social constructs. Imbali teaches craft which is often seen as women’s work and not often viewed as art in the same way that a print is. This will affect pricing of items and the market. Printmaking is an established form of printmaking in South Africa with a set market. The harder question, which Imbali has to figure out, is how do you make a handmade print on fabric stand out from all the fabrics one can buy cheaply at the store? I don’t have the answer but it is interesting to think about.
Today was another jam packed one. We started bright and early with a trip to the Origins Center at Wits University, followed by a lovely lunch at Luv Food and a stop at the David Krut studio space.
The Origins Center was pretty cool. Filled with artifacts and videos, the museum tells the story of humankind from prehistory to the present. South Africa is the birthplace of humankind and this museum makes a point of telling this story. We took an in depth look at the San People who live across Southern Africa. The exhibitions touched on their way of life, spirituality, and contemporary challenges.
After the museum visit we took a nice little stroll through Wits University. It’s a beautiful campus with many plants I had never seen before. After a few tries we were finally able to exit and head over to Luv Food. Let’s just say I loved the food at Luv Food! With options ranging from lasagna and chicken to french toast with Nutella. It was all delicious!
After lunch we headed to the David Krut studio where we met with two young printmakers Chad and Sbongiseni. We had a thorough vocabulary lesson with examples of many of the terms mentioned. I had many questions which the guys were more than happy to answer. I learned a great deal and it was wonderful to talk to people who were extremely passionate about their work. I’m sure we could’ve gone on all evening if given the opportunity. The print shop also has gallery at the back showcasing artworks by artists the printshop collaborates with.
We stopped in the Iwasshot shop after leaving David Krut. Iwasshot is an organization that works with youth in Johannesburg. They teach the youth photography and then turn the images into different items that can be purchased like pillows and shirts. All in all it was a wonderful day!