The Cape Town cultural staple makes its way to Jo’burg’s treasured museums and art galleries.

Museum Night is the cosmopolitan cultural experience brought to you by the curators of First Thursdays and for the first time, Jo’burg’s nocturnal art-lovers are invited to explore some of the city’s celebrated custodians of culture and history.

Jo’burg’s first Museum Night, held on Thursday, September 19, beckoned the night-crawlers and nyctophiles of the city to tour the first comic book exhibition at Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG), to commemorate human rights at the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre, Apartheid Museum and Constitutional Hill, take a trip through the cradle of humankind at Origins Centre and the James Kitching Gallery and celebrate the largest collection of African art at the Wits Art Museum.

“Museum Night brings together an incredible diversity of people and through that encounter we hopefully learn a bit more about people different to us,” said Gareth Pearson, partner at Thursdays Projects which founded First Thursdays and Museum Night in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Pearson said the conversation of how South Africans navigate the night-time adds to the novelty of the Museum Night experience.

“The idea of being at a museum at night is unique to most of us, and makes for an exciting social event that appeals to many different people. On a more provocative level it’s asking questions around our freedom to occupy public spaces at night time.

“Our inability to feel safe and to move freely at night is a very normal experience in South Africa, and while we’re not proposing some sort of utopia, we’re creating a space where just for a few hours it feels like it could be different,” he said.

Explorers at Museum Night handle tools from the hunter-gatherer San community at the Wits University Origins Centre on September 19. Photo: Busang Senne

Archaeologist Dr Tammy Hodgskiss who held the ‘Colouring Africa’ ochre workshop at Origins Centre for Museum Night told Wits Vuvuzela,  “We have a lot of activities tonight focused on archaeology and the content that we have in the museum, from the origins of art and beginnings of humans, going to all the different art cultures of South Africa.”

At the tour of the famous jails of Constitutional Hill that imprisoned the likes of Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe, Wits University first-year BA general student Sitha Majanaga said, “I’m most excited to see the cells…and envision how it was for them at that time.”

“They are important to remind us of our past, where we come from and how we’ve come a long way,” said Majanaga.

Graphic novels and comic books took centre stage at JAG.  “It’s really interesting to see comic books and comic book culture in a museum context, and to see it being recognised as a form of fine art,” said Gemma Hart, a Wits master’s fine art student.

Visitors viewing the collection of comic books on display, including Trinetta Sky by artist Ben Geldenhuys. Photo: Busang Senne

Museums are a nation’s way of documenting its history as powerful institutions of memory that trace the collective genealogy of who we were, who we are and who we have the potential to become.

It may be a coincidence that Museum Night took place in this watershed moment of gender-based violence and Afrophobia, but the auspicious event happened at the right time, in the right place by inviting us to unpack how art is a form of storytelling, resistance and healing and community in turbulent times.

FEATURED IMAGE: The Art of Comics is the first exhibition of its kind at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, making its debut at Museum Night on September 19. Photo: Busang Senne