Reimagining Museums and Archives

3 Dec 2018 - 11:30





On Friday the 30th of November, the Centre for Curating the Archive hosted a symposium on Reimagining Museums and Archives at Norval Foundation, which was convened by the Honours in Curatorship Class of 2018. It consisted of two panel discussions, which were significantly contributed to by Pippa Skotnes and Bodhi Kar, as moderators, and Ayanda Mahlaba, Banele Khoza, Cedric Nunn, Kim Gurney, Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja, Rike Sitas and Susana Molins-Lliteras, as panellists.

The first discussion with panellists Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja, Banele Khoza, Kim Gurney and moderated by Pippa Skotnes was titled Reimagining As Destruction and Creation. This discussion sought to reflect on the necessity of the metaphorical destruction of museums and archives in their present forms, and to imagine what new forms could emerge/be created, as a result. Firstly, the panellists pointed to the violence of these institutions, which were likened to concentration camps, the repetition of the trauma of the colonial encounter that they embody by housing pillaged remains of people and cultures that have been disappeared, and the limitations of repatriation as an act of restorative justice, based on the burdensome ‘hau’ of museum objects, which is carried through space and time. In response to how these spaces could possibly circumvent their problematic positionality, they argued that these institutions needed to revisit their intention, they needed to continuously attempt to reposition themselves to facilitate the process of introspective learning around what makes them problematic, and to have a deeper engagement with the arts, which can perform the metaphorical destruction required. What was collectively held at the end of the discussion was that the places where our ideas, voices and practices live and/or are embodied should be brought into constant conversation with the traditional format of museums and archives, to reimagine them.

The second discussion with panellists Ayanda Mahlaba, Cedric Nunn, Rike Sitas, Susana Molins-Lliteras and moderated by Bodhi Kar was on Reimagining Where Archives Are Constituted. It sought to make sense of what an archive’s delineating elements are, and what ways alternative sites of knowledge could and/or should be used to legitimately call themselves such. The panellists presented the sites of knowledge from and through which they research, write and exhibit, and these ranged from the staged and unstaged oral narrations of Mahlaba’s maternal family, to documentary photography of marginalized communities, to footnotes on communal manuscripts that are now housed in private collections in Timbuktuu, to both the ordered and disordered infrastructures of cities. The attendees then received an impromptu education on the history of the colonial archive, which was by nature exclusionary in so far as it restricted access and content, and issues were, then, raised around using this very specialised instant of information collecting to describe all spaces or sites that store knowledge. This sparked a debate around whether the colonial definition of an archive should be universally applied. Lastly, the panellists addressed curiosities around methodology, and what was found was that although some strides have been made with oral history, the legitimacy of alternative sites of knowledge, especially as archives of historical knowledge, remains contested.

The CCA's new website, Object Ecologies, was also launched on Friday. We will be posting about this soon so check our news feed for updates.


Above: Nashilongweshipwe Mushaandja, Pippa Skotnes, Banele Khoza and Kim Gurney.

Below: Pippa Skotnes, Banele Khoza and Kim Gurney.

Above: Bodhi Kar, Ayanda Mahlaba, Cedric Nunn, and Rike Sitas. 

Below: Bodhi Kar, Ayanda Mahlaba, Cedric Nunn, Rike Sitas and Susana Molins-Lliteras.

Above: member of the audience at the Norval Foundation's library. 

Header image: the Honours class and CCA staff.

We would like to extend thanks to the following people: the moderators and panellists for generating an engaging dialogue, Jade Nair Karen Ijumba and Lyndall Cain for planning and co-ordinating the symposium, Fazlin van der Schyff for generously assisting with printing, Maggie du Toit for snapping images on the day, and Norval Foundation for providing the CCA’s Honours in Curatorship Class of 2018 with an inspirational space in which to close off their year.


Download the symposium programme.

Download the symposium invitation.

Download the students' bios.