Lost in transformation : a critical study of two South African museums.
Rodéhn, Cecilia Margareta Olofsdotter.
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In this dissertation Transformation, as understood in South Africa, is investigated in the ‘Natal Museum’ and the ‘Msunduzi Museum Incorporating the Voortrekker Complex’ in terms of socio-political structures, the museum as a place, its collections and displays. I have emphasised the ethnographical perspective and analysed it by using key concepts such as new museology, time, space and place. My research focuses on the perception and mediation by museum staff-members of Transformation which is compared and positioned against South African and international museological theoretical discourses. I further explore the political backdrop to Transformation of South African museums and discuss related problems and aspects such as reconciliation, nation-building and the African Renaissance. Socio-political structures, acts, reports and policy documents are analysed over a long temporal sequence, but focus on the period 1980-2007. The long temporal sequence is a tool to capture the development connected to the museums in space and time and aims to compare and present previous developments in order to investigate how Transformation positioned itself as against the past. I hold that Transformation should be treated as an ongoing process connected to other transformation processes across time. I also propose that Transformation started earlier than previously suggested and that it is not a question of one Transformation but of many transformation processes. The urban landscape and the concept of place and name are explored. My research examines the urban landscape from the establishment of Pietermaritzburg to study how the museums were positioned in the landscape and how this has contributed to associated meanings. The museums are treated as demarcated places in the urban landscape which are named and infused with meaning and ownership. The museums are constituted and acted out within specific socio-political structures. The dissertation suggests that the objectives of Transformation reveal themselves through negotiation and alteration of place and name. My research explores the history of the museum collections – how objects were acquired, classified and used to materialise the museums´ institutionalisation of time and what this brought about for heritage production. I investigate what did and did not change when the museums transformed and I deconstruct the new and old objectives and socio-political ideas of collections. I analyse displays as socio-political spaces, the agent’s appropriation, and the discrepancies within dominant socio-political structures. When Transformation materialises in displays it becomes visible for the public to see. The negotiated displays show how the museum tries to visualise Transformation to the public. The discussion analyses the discussed concepts of Transformation, the structures, place, name, display and collection, and relates these to the concept of time, and to how agents create time and make it visual. I also discuss how museological writing and political speeches shape and negotiate Transformation through their articulation and how they sometimes constrain and form discrepancies to actual reality.