Here is our final project that we presented to our Iziko supervisors and other employees. We wanted to provide a booklet that will inspire youth to discover museum careers. Intern Project
It’s so crazy to think that our time in South Africa is nearing a close. I think that I will look back on my time here for many years as some of the best days ever. For the end of our internship, Wandile asked us to create a project to present to many of the Iziko staff, including our supervisors, the Education and Public Programming department, and the director of the museums. We decided to create a booklet that would help Iziko advertise the many careers people can have within a museum because we noticed that not many youth know that working in a museum is an option. We worked really hard on it for a few days, and are really happy with how everything turned out.
Reflecting on my time spent with Bradley, Janene, and Hannah at the Social History Center in the conservation department, I think I have grown a lot as a person as well as a future museum professional. It may seem obvious, but the thing I have really learned the most during my internship so far is what conservators really do. Up until now the field of conservation has always been really obscure to me since it is such a small and exclusive field. In most of my museum classes and experience interning at and visiting museums, conservation is definitely the least talked about topic, and the department that I really had the least understanding of.
Knowing that I want to work in a department like collections management or
curatorial, it is good to have the knowledge of certain conservation skills because many of the preventative conservation techniques overlap with those of other departments. It is also very insightful to know what a day looks like for a conservator and all the different kinds of work that they do. I’ve learned these past few weeks that Bradley does not just sit in the lab repairing objects all day, but works with the curators to be sure objects are suitable for display, regulates the temperatures and humidity in the storage rooms, and takes appropriate measures when infestations occur. And that’s just what he’s done in in the past two weeks! I have really gained a greater understanding and appreciation for conservators that I would not have had without working in the conservation department.
This week, Wandile also took us on a field trip to the West Coast Fossil Park, which was about two hours north of Cape Town. We all piled into a nice big van and Strombile drove us all out there. When we first arrived, we saw a whole tree full of yellow African weaver birds making nests, and they were the coolest
things. We watched them for a while before meeting a woman named Wendy, who was an educator at the site. We learned about fossils found on the site and the many different types of now-extinct wildlife. At the fossil park, a new museum is currently being built and should be opening in December if all continues well. It’s a little disappointing that we couldn’t see it, but it just means that we’ll all have to come back someday! Overall, this little vacation was a really cool and fun way to spend the day.
Cape Town was a beautiful city to adventure. Having the opportunity to work in the space was tremendous to me and I am glad to say I worked in South Africa. It was an additional bonus that my job was apart of one of the finest museums around the world, Iziko Museums of South Africa! It is very sad that it is my time to leave but the experience will never bee forgotten. I have gotten he opportunity to work with some of the brightest people who believe in advancing education for our future generations, and love their job more than for the money. I have grown very close to my supervisor, and we plan to spend time together when she come to America for my graduation.
I have also spent time with other interns from around the world, and we have made a connection as well. His name was Imaniyono, and he taught me more of the xhosa language, and he life that he lives. The job that I took upon which was Education and Public Programming was not just an experience it was part of life. Learning the differences of how we live, things such as their ‘hot chips’ are considered our french fries, while American ‘hot chips’ are potato chips that are covered in paprika.
I really enjoyed finishing my final project for Iziko as well. My project consist of me putting together a collage of things that I adventured working with Iziko Museums. I included videos of young children, and even coleus showing their personal sides rather than just them working.I have worked in different departments that pertained to me traveling to different townships, and museums around South Africa. I went on one particular trip that was by the Iziko Mobile Museum, where they travel to townships and teach the children more about life, art, and history. They have displays to show the children such as dissected animals. We also had an opportunity to play on the drums and make me music and much more.
Working in this environment you learn that museums play a very important part of students. Museums teaches everyone about their history, why countries are build in their own way, and many more. Having art galleries are exciting for children. They get to be creative exploring their own minds no matter what mental issues that a child can have they still have a mind of their own. I feel sad not being able to see the finish product of the exhibition that Iziko will be hosting. The exhibition will consist of them showing off all the artworks from the students that come in and use their minds. I have worked with one year olds all the way to seniors in high school and it was a pleasure! These children give you hope, and they make your day just being there for an hour. I am very happy I came on this trip, and can not wait to further my education with art, and plan management.
Sadly, I only have a few days left in beautiful Cape Town😦. Our last weekend was really fun, but we also experienced some bad luck on the way. Friday we tried to take the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain and got destroyed in a freezing storm cloud. On Saturday, we tried to hike up Skeleton Gorge and again didn’t win against the rain. Instead, we decided to hike up Lions Head for sunset, not realizing how dark the way down would be; Alexa tumbled down off the trail, but luckily she lived. On Sunday, we went horseback riding on Noordhoek beach. It was a funny last weekend and made for some great memories.
My last week of work has gone by really fast. I’m very appreciative of this opportunity as an intern at Iziko Social History Centre. One of the more important aspects I have learned about museums through my internship is how important these centers are for education of South Africa’s history and culture heritage. The biggest problem these centers face are due to the “boring” stereotype museums are given, specifically by the youth. The staff is extremely passionate about reaching to different audiences for education about South Africa’s history.
I really knew nothing about the jobs within a museum context before I started working at Iziko. I wasn’t aware of all the details and work that is put into each exhibit and its’ objects. I’ve learned about the importance of conservation and how much work is put into keeping historical objects maintained. Whether it be sorting through documents or helping preserve infested objects, I understand the process of taking care of history.
What made this experience enjoyable were the individuals I have met in the Iziko staff. My supervisors have been amazing at making me feel welcome and engaged. Although I’ve only been here a short four weeks, they have allowed me to learn many aspects about conservation work. I’m very thankful for my experience and the wonderful individuals at the Iziko Social History Centre.
Throughout my studies as a history major, my professors have always encouraged their students to constantly seek out new perspectives and methods of displaying and narrating history and to critically analyze the way the practices affect the way we learn and understand the past. A museum is a unique place where both of these must happen in order for the institution to be a success, and my time at Iziko has showed me how crucial these steps are not only in writing a research paper, but also for helping post-1994 South Africa understand its own past and mold its own future. At the same time, my time here has also taught me about the difficulties that politics can play in the everyday workings of museums and the importance of recognizing the social and cultural importance of these institutions.
For the past four weeks, I have been interning at the Social History Centre under the supervision of Tessa Davids, one of the collections managers. I have had the chance to see the countless objects in the storage rooms, ranging from grandfather clocks and pipes to bowls and chairs, and learned a bit about each piece thanks to my time working with Paul, a valuator working with the Social History Centre. While it has been absolutely phenomenal to see all the objects I have, I have found it hard to agree with the reasoning for the government-required valuations. To me, there is no plausible way to put a price on a piece of a culture, and the South African government should be able to recognize the cultural, social, and educational value of the Iziko Museums (or any museum, for that matter) without having a number attached to it. For a country with a history that is so essential to its present condition, it is aggravating to see political elites question the value of their own past and turn in into a commodity.
While I have certainly been questioning the government’s role in museums over this past month, it has been amazing to see the dedication of the staffers at the Social History Centre to making the process of valuation easier and to the upkeep of the institution. Rather than outright refusing to do the valuation, they have found a way to see it as something that will help them better understand their collections because of how thorough they need to be, and the improved familiarity with their objects will help them better curate exhibitions and collections. The staff at the Social History Centre has truly helped me see how museums continue to affect the histories that are told to its audiences and have further encouraged me to appreciate all cultures and perspectives, regardless of their popularity or monetary value, and for that I am forever grateful.
My outrageously long interview with my lovely supervisor Ingrid Masondo the Curator of photography and new media.
C: Could you describe your position as a curator at the museum?
I: Describe the position? I’m the curator of photography and new media, which means I look after those collections of photography and new media. They’re an interesting media because in a way they kind of cross all of the boundaries, or most of the boundaries and departments that are in the gallery. So it’s a bit of a challenging position, for instance, in terms of how we think of new media, its still new, its in infancy, so kind of a new department. Its generally mainly thought of as audio visual material, but I think there’s quite of a range, you know? But it also crosses in terms of what I take care of that could also fall into the contemporary with the curator of contemporary art. All of the collections at some point need to be digitized, and often that would be through photography. So photography in lots of ways has come to impact on very many aspects of the museum and galleries functioning, and on one level its taken very seriously as a particular medium, with particular materials and ways of caring and conserving, and in another level its also not. Anybody can grab a camera and just photograph, digitize or become a photographer, and propose to us to collect their image. So it’s a very interesting, but very exciting medium but it also its frustrating in that way, and so as much as its also quite an older medium. Its more than 100 years now of photography, but in terms of the gallery and the museums collections photography and new media is the youngest department and collection. But I think its also the fastest growing one. And yeah I think we should be at a stage where we understand it a bit better now to take care of it, especially because we need it in so many other areas and aspects of the running of the gallery and the institution.
C: Why did you start working at the museum?
I: It was an accident of sorts, like in most of the jobs I’ve ended up in. I’m also really fascinated by how institutions function, and I think sometimes the best way to really get a sense of that is by being inside the institution. I believe that a national public institution should be at the forefront of transforming our society. For issue like access and many of the issues that face our society, those are the institutions that are better able to address those issues. I think for private institutions; their slate is clean. They can deal with whatever, there is no social, public imperative and they’re not answerable to the public. Where as national institutions are. I was very fascinated by it, also because in how the city functions, and if you think about the national institutions that are here and in terms of their age and in terms of how long they’ve been existing. So I thought how does an institution that was founded on a colonial mindset, colonial practices, function in 2015, 2016 for instance. Also I had known a few people that have come and gone and I think from the outside it still looks, for many people that don’t know anyone who works in this institution, it still looks like its that old institution. There’s formidable architecture, very classical building. I think people often don’t know. I wondered, if you come in and you think you have a progressive agenda does the institution enable you, is it an enabling environment? So its an experiment of sorts. I think its very easy to throw stones when you’re outside. My belief is that you actually have to get in and see. Are you able to do things, and if not why? Because often its also not as simple as people do not agree with your proposals or your way of thinking or way of doing things. Often things are much more complicated than they seem.
C: What do you enjoy about working here?
I: So far, it’s been working with the collections and doing stock take and just getting a sense of what has been collected over the years. And already that’s changed my view of the institution. There’s quite a very diverse group of people that actually work here, and a lot of them are very fascinating. A lot of them are artists. It makes sense, but I think its one of those on going debates “why do artists become administrators” you know and some people say some frustrated artist become administrative… there’s all these theories. And in a way that makes it much more creative. I suppose the next question you’re going to ask me is about, what’s the challenges and frustrations, because its related. Part of being in these public and national institutions, the administration can be so cumbersome. Its necessary, and I don’t think its something that’s peculiar to this institution, I think its across the board. A lot of institutions find there’s all these measures simply being put in, systems being put through, and this form and compliance to do this. You have to go through these loops, and a lot of it it guided by this paranoia about the kind of setting right now. There’s lots of talk about corruption, which is nothing new really its been going on for years. It didn’t start yesterday or last year or even with our current president. So a lot of it seems to be reactive, and its about giving this impression that there’s all these safe guards against corruption for people that work in institutions. Some of them are necessary, but I think so much energy is spent all of this, instead of the very smooth and efficient running of an institution. Some of it is really frustrating and cumbersome and unnecessary. Some part of me is very much an administrator you know. I fully understand how things need to be sorted and organized and allows better functioning, but there’s a limit to that. There’s not really a healthy balance I think.
C: What kind of role do museums, and this museum play in the community?
I: I think for the most part, since I’ve been here (the gallery and museum has a very long history) because of some institutional changes, we’ve been short staffed. Between the curators and collections teams our main focus has been on exhibitions. We’ll do walkabouts and that kind of thing. I think the access has mainly been focused around exhibitions and objects, and I think we’ve been much less productive in terms of engaging. I mean I think in the first quarter of this year, and in the last six months we’ve had many more public talks, but you have to remember I’ve only been here for a year so in the middle of that there’s all these changes happening. Part of its also has to do with administration that you have to do. Where do you find the time to actually come up with programs that can bring in other audiences, other publics and in a different way than just sitting down and talking. It’s a bit of a catch 22. In my view it should be that kind of space where the engagement is not just one way, that the public is able to speak to us and have a voice about what we’re putting up and what they would like to see. The curators also speaking and academics. It should be the kind of place that brings all these different elements and publics together, and it allows space for engagement not only revolving around objects. More discussion. Objects of course are important, they’re inspiration to what we do and the discussions we have, but often their also they reflect what is going on in the everyday. Even when they are put up and displayed in a gallery, they take on another status. With the lighting and being framed or put on a plinth. Often these are objects that are created by a particular people in a particular context, in a particular life. We tend to remove all of these other facets about it and I don’t think we are only here about aesthetics and beauty.
C: Do you think the role of art in general is for something more that aesthetics, and as something that can evoke emotion or social change?
I: Yes, absolutely I do. I don’t know if the objects do that by themselves. They’re created by humans. Often, how they get to a particular place, and to be displayed there, there’s stories behind all of that, and often they are not nice stories. We don’t talk about that when the object is up there and displayed. It can shift, so much can shift people’s way of being, ways of seeing, and it can change people’s imagination, but the way of reality is that after the object does whatever it does to you. When you step out you still go back to your reality. Some times slightly shifted, but how do we bridge that gap? Whilst also think that art has so much potential to transform, I think its more of a catalyst. It can’t do that by itself. There’s a whole lot of other institutions and social processes that also need to go along with it. The art can’t do that by itself.
C: Do you think the National Gallery is in a good place to bridge that gap?
I: I think it has the potential, yeah. I think its about does it have the will? I don’t know. Time will tell.
C: What would be your hope for museums in the future?
I: Its space where there can be so much more. Where people can imagine and even be something else. They’ve got so much potential. The challenge about access is a really interesting and a tough one. On one level museums need to be maintained, and they are very costly to keep up, and at the same time, for instance we are not a free museum. We charge what we consider to be a nominal fee, but for people that are poor, and a lot of people are struggling now and we wouldn’t even call them poor. That is quite something. Do I buy bread or go to the museum? It’s very real issues. I think there’s that ongoing debate and I think the museum could be especially transformational and inspirational to those classes of people that also do not have the space or time to have leisure. Their lives are very much under pressure. You get up you go to work, you’re looking for work constantly and you come back and you must watch the kids, you travel long to and from work especially for those people I think it’s the issue of access that remains a big challenge. We are free of course on public holidays but sometimes its like once a month, or we’ve got periods where public holidays follow each other, but often depending on what people do, those are days that you want to spend with your family, or its your only day to rest or your working.
C: Do you think, someone in a curator position would be able to make those changes happen?
I: I think It’s a group. I don’t think it’s an individual thing to do. I think it takes a significant, or critical amount of people within an institution to want to do that and to be relentless about it. To be constantly trying, and trying different ways and in the process bringing in more and more people so that you keep building a critical mass. You can have exciting programs for 3 months and when you fall off and you can’t because you’re busy, it looses steam and people go on with their lives. So it really is an issue of time and people need to be relentless and on going struggle. It’s not something you do and you have one event and its like wow we had a thousand people that was so amazing, and then you go back to the drawing board, and say you’re going to have an event next week also, because it not an event. I’m not talking access in terms of events, but in terms of that people also claim that space, because it’s a national institution, it’s a public institution. They need to claim it and be interested in what we are acquiring, and what’s in our collections, how are we keeping this work, what informs our policies, why are we acquiring particular work in a particular moment, and be able to question curators, you know. With that kind of access outside of just walking through the doors and looking at exhibitions and walking out. There’s very many layers of access.
C: For a student who is thinking about working in a museum, what advice would you give them?
I: I think that first they must go spend time at the museum. Like I was saying earlier, things look like something else from the outside, so its always good to get a better sense of a space or a person that you think you want to be involved with. So I would say they must go spend time and get a sense of how that institution functions. But I mean even getting, you’ve been here for 2 weeks or 2 and a half, so even this kind of engagement to a certain extent is superficial. You get a sense of what’s going on but its better than someone from the outside and thinking that its very glamorous. But often it takes a long time to actually really get a good sense of an institutions work. Sometimes they are really not transparent and it depends on the structure and how people communicate. And some people believe information shouldn’t be shared and there’s all these things that happen. But I would say they must go find out. Its also never a bad thing to ask one’s self why. Why do they want to be there in a museum, what informs that decision and why that particular museum instead of another? So just to think through what other museums or organizations are similar to that one and what makes them like one or lead towards one instead of another. But for the most part really the only way is to really get in there in the deep end and find out. That’s the best way to find out.
C: Where do you see yourself in the future?
I: Probably still experimenting with my life. Where and how I’m really not sure.
C: Do you have anything you’d like to do?
I: I do, I would like to have a set amount of discipline and time and energy to also go back to my work and focus on producing work, and probably that’s a disciplinary issue. I have to make them time I don’t see myself resolving or wanting to be a full time artist.
This past Saturday, we experienced our first Rugby game at Newlands stadium (go Stormers!). On Sunday, we visited Cape Point and a few places on the way (Hout Bay, Kalk Bay, and Muizenberg).
On Monday (Mandela Day), we went to DuNoon, a township near Cape Town, to show kids objects from the Iziko museums and do some arts and crafts.
Alexa and I interviewed a few people from the Social History Centre. Here is the interview with Bradley who is a Preventative Conservator (my Iziko supervisor):
How did you get to this job? (What are the experiences you had before this job or educational requirements).
Bradley: “I got this job by default, Iziko wanted me. I was working for the provincial government, we serviced about forty museums as a conservator for the whole entire province. Coming to this job, I had about 11 years experience prior. I was busy with a masters in Material Science, understanding the behavior of materials and how they react to climate and other materials.”
What is your favorite part about this job?
Bradley: “No two days are the same. Constantly demanding. Constantly thinking of new innovative ways. Every problem is different. Every exhibition is different. So you’re constantly evolved. Working, thinking, trying to be creative.”
What advice would you give to young people who want to become conservators?
Bradley: “It’s actually an exciting degree. It is very rewarding. I would advise young people, because it’s a good career.”
What would you like to be doing 5-10 years from now?
Bradley: “Probably teaching and empowering other South Africans in terms of conservation.”
What did you want to do when you were younger, did you ever think museums as a possibility?
Bradley: “I knew there would be a need for Science and Math teachers, so that was my initial root. But when I came to Cape Town, kids didn’t want to go to school, so I decided no, I’m just going to be wasting my time trying to help people that don’t want to be helped.”
This week I got to interview my supervisor, Tessa Davids, a collections manager at the Social History Centre. Tessa is probably one of the coolest people I’ve ever met in a work setting; she’s approachable and easy to talk to (the first full day we talked for a solid half hour about Game of Thrones and Criminal Minds), but she runs a tight ship and always makes sure that what needs to be done is accomplished. It was great to hear more about her personal views and experiences concerning her work.
How did you get started at your position? Had you always wanted to work in a museum or was it by chance?
It’s been a long journey for me, but I’ve always been good at history at school, but only started liking it in grade 10. I studied it throughout my academic career and have a master’s degree in Social History. I worked at the Robben Island Museum as a researcher working on the ex-political prisoners database, and it’s there that the two passions of mine merged: administration and history. In 2006, I got the job as the Western Cape Provincial Collections Manager and so found my perfect job. Studying and loving history would probably landed me in a museum at some point.
What are some things you enjoy about your job? What are some things that you find difficult or frustrating?
Giving access to the collection and seeing it bring people together that was divided for so long is the best part of my job. And with that also, sorting out a collection, making it possible for everyone to access it. And so, seeing it come alive. My motto regarding history is as follows: history is only useful/productive and positive if one learns from it, so I don’t fear history. What I dislike most about my job is when the collections are being politicized. Nothing frustrates me more because it leads to neglect and misrepresentations, and so not given the priority it deserves (money, personnel, equipment, storage, etc, etc.).
Were there any requirements for your job (previous experience, a specific degree, etc.)?
Yes, my post-grad degree in Social Sciences, experience, management skills and experience helped much, and in my case, my training, skills and experience in retail management, of all things, really helped, especially with museum collections audits. I am really comfortable and excited by large collections and managing people.
What parts/responsibilities of the job have surprised you?
I guess how much other government legislation has now impacted the collections. The South African Police Services Firearms Control Act really freaked people out and caused many firearms to be badly damaged when it was de-activated. And now GRAP 103… now finance wants to take over management of museum collections! Absolutely ridiculous!
Do you have any advice for young people who are looking to work in a museum and/or be a collections manager?
You must have a passion for history because money is scarce and we get the thinnest slice of the budget and we are the first to be cut. There is room to grow, of course, and it has been quick for some, but not for others. Study and do training, whatever is offered. That will help. Systems change and update all the time, so keep up.
My interview is with my colleague Lumanyano. He is from an North Link College located in Belleville, Western Cape. His major is tourism, and he is currently a senior. He started the intern with I, and Yentl two weeks ago and now he loves it just a much as me. We have all grown so close that we go to lunch everyday together! I asked him a few questions to get his take on his experience.
Annetta: ‘What have you learn here at Iziko Museums?”
Lumanyano: “I learned that when you looking at a picture it is more than what you see. It is actually a message behind the picture that you see.”
Annetta: “Do you feel that this experience will help you in the future?”
Lumanyano: “Yes, it will help a lot, working with people of all ages, and cultures you get the feel of what they like and do not like, and what exciting things you can add to make tourism of South Africa great!”
Annetta: “How would you describe Iziko Museums after working from the inside?”
Lumanyano: “Fun, exciting, and lots to learn, and it is a very good place to be at.”
At the Social History Center there’s always something interesting going on. Hannah and I have settled into the routine of the daily workday with the conservation team, which includes our supervisor Bradley, and Janene, Alta, and Fatima. There are also two interns from Reunion Island working with us named Simon and Mylene. Our mornings usually are spent between frequent tea/biscuit/socialization breaks and working really hard, which I think is a pretty good balance. This week, Hannah and I have spent a lot of time with the Lynn Carneson Collection, which was recently donated and is still being accessioned and cataloged.
Lynn Carneson was the daughter of Fred Carneson and Sarah Carneson, who were both white freedom fighters during the apartheid era. Fred owned a left-wing newspaper which published that went against the National Party’s government at the time. Both Sarah and Fred spent time in prison during Lynn and her younger brother and sister’s upbringings. This collection is interesting because it spans a lifetime of collected photos, notes, cards, and letters to and from members of the family.
This collection is my favorite thing that I have worked with because it is so complete in the story it tells. While I work, I have been able to read the letters and imagine what it would be like to be in prison, to have parents in prison, and to continue daily life throughout it all. Through reading these letters, I feel like I have seen the family grow up. In the letters, Lynn goes from high school, to studying at university, to getting a job as a schoolteacher in England, and meeting the man she eventually marries. There are just so many moments of daily life that are kept in the letters that make me feel connected to Lynn and her family, which is what I love about it.
The historical influence of this collection is also profound. Included is a copy of the freedom charter that was printed just after it was written in Kliptown, Soweto in 1955. Fred attended the conference and was a part of the Treason Trial for the signing of the charter. The family saved the final draft of the charter that he kept after the conference, and that’s only one of the thousands of pieces of paper!
Bradley said that this collection is important because we see the face of the ANC and Nelson Mandela as ending apartheid, but we don’t always acknowledge the fact that whites had the power to make the change. He said that the white anti-apartheid freedom fighters are a very important component in how we got to be where we are today, which is why this collection is important and why it needs to be displayed in museums around the world. I think he’s right.