New manifesto aims to save museums

A newly launched manifesto hopes to save and preserve museums, galleries, and cultural sites in Johannesburg.   

Curators at several museums and galleries in Gauteng’s cultural hub used international museum day, to highlight the precarious situation they face as a result of the ongoing covid-19 pandemic. 

The manifesto is a collective effort, drafted and supported by institutions like the Apartheid Museum, Friends of Johannesburg Art gallery, the Johannesburg heritage foundation, Wit’s Origin Centre and the Constitution Hill, to name a few.  

The two-page document calls for a social compact between political parties, the business community, civil society organisations and the public at large, to make a commitment to recover, protect, and manage public art institutions.  

The manifesto points out that museums which house South Africa’s treasures and history faced extreme challenges prior to covid-19, but the pandemic has only hastened their decline. Several important art and historical institutions are on the brink of permanent closure if they don’t get help soon. 

International museum day, hosted annually on May 18, is an initiative by the international council of museums (ICOM) to raise awareness about the importance of museums as institutions for cultural exchange and enrichment. 

This year’s theme was ‘recover and reimagine’ which encouraged museums and communities to create, imagine and share new practices of co-creation for social, economic, and environmental challenges. 

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to Steven Sack, an independent artist and one of the curators that assisted in drafting the manifesto. Sack says the catalyst for drafting a manifesto, was the flooding at Museum Africa in November 2020. During a burglary, a thief stole a sink and broke a tap, causing the whole west wing of the museum to flood, and causing water damage to more than 100 photographs.

Coverage by the media on the closure of museums and sites like Liliesleaf farm and Mandela House further highlighted the need for action. “It struck me that we needed to lobby – [before the local government election]- political parties and get them to make a commitment to museums and it seems the best way to do that was to write a manifesto”, says Sack. 

The aim is to get parties to respond and endorse the manifesto to secure better deals for museums in the future. “We are asking political parties to make it a priority, that these are important institutions that need support”, Sack adds.

All museums built post-1994, which document the liberation struggle and stories of the marginalised communities in South Africa, like the Apartheid Museum and Mandela House, haven’t been able to re-open, because they’ve been set up as private and semi-private museums. Their well-being is dependent on feet through the doors, says Sack. The manifesto addresses these issues and wishes to prevent museums from having to be in this vulnerable position in the first place. 

Dr Tammy Reynard from the Wits Origins Centre and Janine Muthusamy, marketing and communication manager at Constitution Hill share Sack’s sentiments. “We have done huge revamps and maintenance work in the museum and updated the narratives and displays – histories are constantly changing and museums need to be at the forefront of those changes”, say Reynard. The origins centre has also created an augmented reality experience and offers online seminars and museum tours to pivot during the pandemic.  

According to Muthusamy, Constitution Hill has reimagined itself by repurposing museum spaces to support local NGO’s, education and creative sectors  

The social compact and programme of action will be made public on September 24, 2021, on Heritage Day, which will request a report on the state of the City of Johannesburg’s museums and galleries.

FEATURED IMAGE: Priorities and action stated in the Johannesburg manifesto. Photo: Supplied. 


Wits graduate joins Nordic journal’s editorial committee

Wits school of arts graduate has been appointed as a new member of the editorial committee for the Nordic Journal for Artistic Research.  

Wits dramatic arts graduate Eliot Moleba was appointed as the newest member of the editorial committee for the Nordic Journal for Artistic Research (VISin Oslo, Norway, on April 22, 2021. 

Moleba completed an honours degree in dramatic arts in 2011 and has a master’s in critical diversity studies that he completed in 2016, both at Wits. He is currently working on a doctorate in theatre directing, which he began in 2019, at the Oslo National Academy of Arts. 

VIS, the Nordic research journal is biannual digital journal published as a collaborative initiative of the Stockholm University of Arts and the Norwegian Artistic Research Programme. They had an open call, from February 23 to March 10, for two new members to join their editorial committee of seven.  

Johan Palme, editorial project manager of VIS, spoke to Wits Vuvuzela about the selection process. “We were extremely happy to receive 54 applications from every inhabited continent, including renowned professors from significant educational institutions,” he says. The steering committee at VIS then sorted the applications into a short list for the first meeting, and decided to offer the position to Moleba. 

Palme says the new members are required to select themes for topics in the journal. They collectively select and provide editorial feedback on expositions published in the journal. The position as member of the editorial committee usually lasts for two years. “The members are expected to put in about 80 hours a year, where reading and reflecting on the submitted expositions form the vast majority of the work. 

Moleba is currently developing a new play called Dreamcatcher. Photo: Provided

Moleba (33) told Wits Vuvuzela that to qualify for the position, it is a prerequisite to have strong art practice and be well acquainted with artistic research, preferably across several disciplines. He has worked as a scriptwriter and head writer for several children’s television shows and has directed and written theatre plays, some of which received residency in Germany, France and Wales. He has also facilitated creative workshops around the world, which he says influenced how he thinks and makes art. 

He is one of the founding members of Play Riot. He was writer and director for theatre productions Sophiatown (2019), Pondoland (2014) and Sizwe Banzi is Alive (2011), to name a fewHis television experience includes scriptwriting for Siyakholwa and Rivoningo, both children’s TV shows.   

Moleba grew up in Mokopane, Limpopo where his passion for storytelling started at a young age“Back in those days we did not have TVs, so I would often sit with my grandmother listening to news and stories on the radio. Because he did not have the best memory for remembering all the details of a story when chatting with friends, he would fill in the gaps by making up his own story. “Very often people would love my version of the stories because they were slightly different,” he says.  

“My academic and creative interests are located at the intersection between old and new South Africa, and how it shapes or affects young people.  

Moleba does not discount that his residency in Norway may have influenced VIS’s decision, saying it is expected that new members are somehow affiliated to and familiar with artistic research within the Nordic context. “It probably helped that I am not only based but also working within the context,” he says, and adds that he hopes to bring a unique perspective to the table and to broaden the scope of questions and concerns being addressed. 

Palme says VIS is thrilled to have Moleba on board: “He is not only an excellent representative of the vibrant arts and academic world of South Africa but also a sui generis(unique) incredibly valuable writer, artist and thinker.”    

FEATURED IMAGE: Eliot Moleba is a former resident dramaturge at the State Theatre. Photo: Provided