Sweet Sweet South Africa

We started our internship this week. Ashley and I spent the week at the Social History Centre working under Tessa and Bradley. Tessa is a collections manager and Bradley is a conservator. We did more than we had expected, from deinstalling and exhibition at the Slave Lodge, to looking at broken objects, to unpacking objects into the vaults. I feel like I’m getting do to things we never would be able to do in any other internship. There will be plenty more stories from here to come!

But in other news, I wanted to share more about our group’s dessert insanity since we’ve arrived in South Africa. There’s something about the way sweet things are made here that just hit the spot.  Things are never too sweet, which tends to be my problem with American desserts. Anyways, here’s a quick look at some memorable things we’ve had so far:

Morning Pastries

We had these super fluffy and buttery croissants in the cafe across from us in Melville in Joburg. A french person would probably scoff at this pastry because its not flakey or whatever. This one is more like a cross between a brioche, a croissant and a cloud. The plain one with a coffee was just a perfect breakfast.

Malva Pudding

We just all had our first Malva pudding today. Jim recommended one from Woolworths so we got one and tried it at our meeting in the afternoon. It’s so soft and caramel-ly. We followed the package instructions to heat up, so it was warm. I don’t usually think anything of bread puddings but wow…

Tiramisu

Ashley bought this great Tiramisu. I think it was also from Woolworths. The espresso that was in it was so intense. Once it entered your mouth, it was like an explosion of ground coffee, following by super creamy marscopone and then more coffee in the madeline. We don’t know what happened, but the entire package was gone in like less than two days.

Ice Cream

Ok we’ve had ice cream a lot since we’ve been here. There are just so many magnum bar flavors and ice cream shops! I also had the biggest soft serve ice cream at the bus stop next to the Table Mountain today. It was like 20 rand (less than $2) and it was like the equivalent of 6 scoops of ice cream. It was man vs. cone for a while until the bus came.

Milk Tart

We had our first milk tart at the Odendaal dinner a week ago. It’s is close to the egg tarts they sell in Chinese bakeries, but these are much lighter. Bread, Milk and Honey, by the Social History Center have these mini one’s that were also so good. We saw the most beautifully decorated one at Woolworths with a cinnamon dusted pattern on it! (Soon to be ours)

Cakes

Marit and Nate also dropped off a red velvet cake for us before they left as a goodbye present. Needless to say, we pretty much inhaled it… But otherwise, we’ve also been having some amazing chocolate cakes after restaurant meals too.

We’re just finishing our 3rd week here in South Africa. There is so much more to eat so stay tuned!

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Conservation Fun at Iziko!!!!

We finally started our internship yesterday!!! I have been placed at the Social History Centre for collections management and conservation experience. Billy is also joining me, as his mentor is M.I.A. As we toured the five floors of storage, I expected we would be eased into working. However, Bradley, the conservator, had different plans. We basically got straight into it. We began deinstalling an exhibit at the Slave Lodge and managed to finish removing most of the objects from one of the rooms. I also began taking condition notes on the objects to be later typed up in an official report. The assistant conservator, Janene, was extremely helpful in showing me how to do this properly since I had no prior experience working with objects. I also began taking photographs of the objects for the condition reports, which were added today after I typed them up.

As we continued to deinstall the Sue Williamsen exhibit, I photographed and packed away some postcards and photographs. Billy and I also kept inventory of the objects being packed away. I finally got the chance to work with an object more directly. Janene showed me how to clean a Freedom Charter T-Shirt with a screen and a vacuum. I photographed the object and wrote a condition report for it. The objects I’m most excited to work with will be the glass negatives we put together today. The piece was somehow damaged and the shards had to be reconstructed to account for any missing pieces. Janene will be showing me how to treat it next week. All in all, a very exciting and busy two days so far!!!

Sipping Wine on Saturdays and Penguin Mania

The gang packed up and road-tripped to Groot Constantia, an Iziko Museum all about wine located right on a vineyard. We drove along the coast spotting houses on hills that we wanted to buy and stopped to play catch with the ocean’s waves. The vineyard and grounds were beautiful complete with rolling hills and white ducks dipping in the river and snowcapped mountains in the distance. We wandered through the small museum and yard before sitting down for a wonderful lunch before our wine tasting tour. On the tour, I learned that pink wine’s made by both white and red grapes, producing a merge of both the color and taste and that red wines are more bitter due to the crushing of the grape’s seed that’s included in the final product (unlike white wines). Though the tour was crowded with mostly American students, I enjoyed the wine tasting at the end in which we also had the chance to taste chocolate made for each wine. The chocolate’s were kinda funky with their zesty lime, wet-wood, tobacco, Christmas taste, but I really enjoyed the milk chocolate cherry and Shiraz red wine and ended up purchasing some at the end.

After the wine tour, we continued to drive along the coast to Simon’s Town to see South Arica’s penguins. Before the sun set into the sea, we were able to go along the boardwalk to the bay where the (wild) penguins lived, penguins that apparently screech as though they were donkeys! I’d never see a penguin that close without a window of glass separating us (thanks Lincoln Park Zoo), and I loved seeing the funny birds nesting and swimming and napping on the sand. Before heading home, we all stopped for coffee and ice cream at a local shop that hung along the street.

That evening, Ashley, Billy, and I went to a small house party in the Cape Town suburb of Muizenberg that our South African friend described as a “game-night.” Billy took that “game” as in meat, Ashley thought sport, and I hoped it’d be a board game night in which it was thankfully the last! We played a board game that had mostly South African terms and pop references, and I was actually pretty shocked/embarrassed how bad I was at answering American pop questions, but we had a good time discussing aspects of culture shock and what living in a big city’s like. We had a splendid first day of the weekend and made some new friends along the way.

Farzanah, Cultural Heritage, and More…

Today we met Farzanah, the daughter of the South African photographer, Omar Badsha. She discussed the process of helping her father curate his photography exhibit at the National Gallery, which apparently was quite difficult as her father is very set in his ways and is not a very diplomatic person. It made me consider my own interests in curating and how I will definitely have to work with people who might not share my vision. We also discussed the idea of cultural heritage and how it might be shaped by tourism. Farzanah mentioned that this new trend of craft heritage and craft objects being sold in South Africa are not necessarily heritage objects. Many of the people who create these objects have to relearn them, or reinterpret them, as this tradition has not been practiced for many generations due to urbanization. This reminded me of the Cuban cigars and rum that are sold in Miami, which are actually manufactured in Jamaica and Puerto Rico. These objects are more symbolic than they are authentic.

We later visited the Mayibuye Centre at the University of Western Cape. This museum houses the archives of apartheid propaganda and photographs of the struggle. It was interesting to see the photographs of some of the most important moments in South African history. We were not able to look through the archives, however, since the archivist was out to lunch. Still, the space was very impressive.

We ended the day at the Philani Emplyment Project in the Cape Flats. Women are appointed by their neighborhoods to weave, sew, print, and paint objects for sale. The women must be mothers, have a loving character, and be approved by their neighborhood. They also have sister projects in other parts of Southern Africa. I have noticed that many of the gifts I will be bringing home were bought at these sorts of businesses. Knowing that your money will be providing an income for people who have no other means of supporting themselves is a great feeling, and it makes the gift far more meaningful.

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.

Tutu & Tea

Our first full day in Cape Town was met with rain and sun and clouds over Table Mountain and sea-soaked seals and new friends and tea with Desmond Tutu. Yes, Tutu and tea! **Mom, if you’re reading this: I’m drinking tea now!

But let’s start at the beginning. Due to our 9:00 am ferry ride to Robben Island being cancelled as a result of bad weather, we had the chance to spend the morning exploring the museum at the ferry departing point alongside educator Vanessa who toured us through the two floors of temporary displays that focused more on post-apartheid history. Video clips showing the reunion of Rivonia Trial prisoners (Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu) commemorating the anniversary of the release were displayed on the walls, accompanying texts of speeches that were read that day. During the tour, I had the chance to meet Nadia, Robben Island Museum’s founder and previous director’s daughter who’s in her eighth year in school. As we walked to the next museum site (the docking point for prisoners who were headed to Robben Island), I had the chance to sort of pick at her brain as to what South African schools are like and what they’re learning in their history courses. I found her observations comparative to that of the U.S. as she stated how she felt frustrated with student and teacher reactions to history and heritage. When a teacher asked the students why they celebrate Youth Day (June 16), a student replied “Sharpeville Massacre?” And the teacher responded, “Yes. I think so.” No!—we were both annoyed. Nadia described how students don’t feel the need to know those dates or important events anymore. This made me upset, and I kept thinking back to my own high school education. To be honest, I couldn’t really recall any important history lessons or even history classes. My school in Michigan focused mostly on math and sciences and sometimes English and writing. But what about history and art? This only made me feel more passionate about wanting to pursue a career involving the two.

Next, we went to the actual docking place for Robben Island prisoners and had the chance to hear and have a tour from an ex-prisoner himself. Vincent showed us around the small, cramped site and into the cell that held prisoners before they were to leave on the ferry for the island. He told us about how prisoners would get a new name—or a number, calculating them by the number of prisoners before them that year and the year in which they were imprisoned. Nelson Mandela’s number was 466/64. He then took us to a room upstairs covered in reproductions of handwritten letters requesting access to visit separate prisoners (rejections and acceptances). There’s something so close and intimate about reading someone else’s handwriting and sort of undergoing the process they went through to see that imprisoned person.

Now to Desmond Tutu! We went to the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation and sat for some tea with the former archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner which was overall inspiring. Later in the afternoon, we went to two craft organizations that used beading as a form of job creations for those in the townships. Streetwire, our first stop, sold everything from key chains and magnets to complete wall decors, and we were able to do a workshop with one of the crafters named Jethro. I produced two oddly shaped key chains which made me appreciate even more the craft and the artistry that’s put into beading. Jethro told us about the supply and demand of the company, how crafters create based upon what’s needed which contrasted from the second organization we went to, Monkeybiz. Monkeybiz’s artists work in the home, constructing animals from the colorful beads and are waged on how many they produce—bought & sold by Monkeybiz. I found these creations even more whimsical with their surreal interpretations of giraffes and poodles and (my favorite) porcupines.

Pilanesberg: Animal Encounters

I wasn’t expecting to see so many animals on our first day. We only went by car the first evening and the grass was so high we couldn’t really see far enough. BUT WE SAW A LION ON OUR FIRST DAY!!!

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We also saw impala, which quickly became boring as it turns out that there are 3000 impala in the park. Obviously, the animals that everyone wants to see are the elephants, rhinos, lions, giraffes, and hippos. So here are some more animals I was able to take pictures of on the morning and night drives.

Hippo

Elephant 1

Rhino 2Giraffe

Zebra

It was a crazy experience now looking back at the photos. I can’t believe some of these were so close: the rhino family and the angry mother that tried to charge at us, the jaywalking zebras and giraffes, and the lazy hippos. The mother elephant also seemed to be mildly annoyed at how close we were in the giant safari truck.

Three Galleries, Three Impressions

We started off the day by visiting the Goodman Gallery to see the Post-African Futures Exhibition. This exhibition was a bit troubling to navigate. Had it not been for the thorough tour we were given, I don’t think I would have been able to understand any of it. Without labels explaining the context of the pieces or information about the artists, it was difficult to decipher many of the pieces. Most were so abstract, that even after they were explained I still felt clueless as to how these themes were being expressed. The Legend of Disruptor X was one such piece. This installation was meant to be a recreation of a German anti-opera by the same name, and while the general plot was explained in text on the wall, the installation seemed to be a compilation of random items. It looked more like a stage, except none of the pieces actually made sense next to each other. There were two mannequins with costumes, I suppose were meant to represent the disruptor (rebel hackers) and the Agency (bad guys), but it was not clear which was which. There were many other pieces that were meant to speak to some possible future African nations might experience, but they seemed to be randomly arranged. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy my experience there.

The Origins Centre at the University of Witwatersrand was next on the list. This museum presents some of the latest research in archaeology about the origins of mankind, namely that life began in Southern Africa. The first gallery displays rock art in columns, each representing a different continent and organized by timeline showing which periods lacked human presence. The only continent with the earliest samples of rock art is Africa. The museum seems to possess a social significance as many blacks were told by the apartheid government that they had no history, and that Africa lacked culture. This is somewhat undone by the museum’s existence. Perhaps it cannot undo decades of social conditioning which made blacks believe that they possess no culture or sophistication, but it can help in disseminating this important information to the rest of society.

Our final visit was the Johannesburg Art Gallery, which seemed to be a ghostly figure. The galleries themselves felt abandoned and decaying. It appeared to be a colonial relic, which did not seem to be fighting for its place in the city centre. With some massive galleries and high ceilings it feels like there could be so much more on display. We later discovered that the museum was actually under restoration, but I read one of the visitors’ books and found that many people had been complaining about the quality of the exhibitions and the physical state of the museum.

Slightly Surreal: Hector Pieterson Museum and Kliptown

We began our morning my going out to Soweto which stands for “South Western Township,” located just beyond Johannesburg. As we drove, the red dust burrowed up against the wild cacti and people unpacked fruits and vegetables on the roadside as makeshift business stands in the early morning haze. Our beginning stop: the Hector Pieterson Museum. I’m kind of glad we didn’t go to the museum on Youth Day (June 16) because that gave me the chance to sort of digest everything that happened, before jumping into the actual facts the museum presented. Here’s some of that stuck with me:

the protests didn’t start as violent, but turned that way;
garbage can lids were used as sort of Captain America type shields, bursting bullet holes in the center;
Hector’s sister recognized him firstly by the patches in the toe of his shoe;
the riots turned against not only white’s cars, but everyone’s, burning automobiles and smashing shop fronts

Before entering the museum, Nate and Marit asked us to speak to one person as we went about. I finally plucked up the courage and called to one woman who wandered slowly throughout, reading each wall text as she went. Her face lit up right away when I told her I was a student and that I wanted to know what brought her to the museum. “For the children, of course!” As a teacher from Pretoria, she and several others brought the school’s students to this museum and later Nelson Mandela’s house in Soweto. “It’s all coming alive,” she exclaimed for herself and for the children as well which made me again consider the value of museums. For antsy kids itching to get out for a winter break, the museum was the perfect place to bring them. As we spoke, a crowd of kids gathered around us, one tugging at the ends of my hair, and by the end of our conversation, the whole class had swarmed us for a group photo. Next, we went to Kliptown.

It’s surreal hearing Taylor Swift’s popular song “Bad Blood” beating from inside the home tagged “Hip Hop” in swirly, green font. Amongst the trash strew streets of Kliptown, there are many things that are surreal. Bunnies and panda bears and roosters that ride on the cement walls above the street. But among the murals, open fires and strings of white socks on a line and children playing cards of magic in the dirt. The pink painted walls of the library at SKY (Soweto Kliptown Youth) where books were stacked upon one another, clouding pockets of dust in the air and the shiny gold NBA sponsor plaque plastered on the wall outside. But there’s also a lot of things that aren’t surreal as well. Upon crossing the concrete overpass to get to the township of Kliptown, our tour guide stated, “I’m sorry for the smell” as the stench of urine hit our noses. Even through my cold, I could sense the harsh smells of dirt and smoke and filth that came from the blue port-a-potties that hugged the boundary of the township. And as we met with SKY’s founder Bob—dream weaver, miracle-maker, Ted talk speaker, and supreme father figure—I found his words to be most truthful and honest. His humble spirit and feminist beliefs drove the operation of SKY into a successful light, and it’s clear hearing his family background (that both his parents and siblings had passed away) had given him the opportunity to grow this new community that would one day become his whole family. We signed the organization’s guest book, and I read through the countries previously listed: Egypt, Canada, Brazil, and more which made me wonder if they too had come to tour the space as we had.

We not only toured the SKY foundation, but all Kliptown as well by a young photographer who took as lastly to the studio where he does some of his work. As we came through the white washed doorways, I noticed works of photography and oil paint hung on the walls. He showed us a mantle of photographs of people before him, relatives and artists of the sort. Marit wondered later if we thought that had been a museum, and I kinda think so through its display and collection and open education for all.

Market Photo Workshop, Artist Proof Studio and Galleries

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Today’s site visits explored community based art organizations that focused on education and career development for the youth. Our stop was Market Photo Workshop, a photography center that trained youth in analog and digital photography. Their courses ranged from foundation 101 classes to in-depth photojournalism fieldwork programs. The workshop aimed to offer younger students the chance to practice photography, without the worry of high costs of equipment or improper instruction. The community built around the workshop offers better critiques. I found this space to be very similar to ICP in New York, where there is a school and gallery. The workshop is more community oriented and engages very well with social issues in Africa.

Our afternoon visit was to Artist Proof Studio (APS), an education center dedicated to the teaching of printmaking. APS IMG_2072offers very structured program. In our discussions we learned they are applying for accreditation and are hoping to soon offer certificate programs. Along with our earlier visit, these workshop spaces seemed to offer a kind of alternative education that worked much better than what is offered in normal schools. APS has also had a long history, surviving through a fire that took away one of their earlier spaces (which included a number of prints by artists that had gone through the program). It seems to be extremely challenging to start an organization, as we heard throughout our visits. It really takes inspiration and motivation to work towards those goal that have kept these organizations running for so long.

In the evening, we took it easy and stopped by two openings: one at the Stevenson Gallery and another at the Hazard Gallery. Both were in fact very different exhibitions and scales of galleries, though they seemed to have an overlapping crowd. I found the Stevenson gallery to be closest to a Chelsea gallery in New York. The works being shown were by a painter named Ivan Grose. This body of work used a soft pastel palette to depict materials such as classic greek sculptures and retro-leopard patterned fabrics. The press release did not really help us in interpreting the works, but felt very distant from the political art we were use to seeing. The second show at Hazard Gallery was a group show that explored protest and politics.

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