The International Council Of Museums’ National Committee of South Africa, together with its partners, ICMAH (International Committee for Museums and Collections of Archaeology and History) and COMCOL (International Committee for Collecting), in association with Iziko Museums of South Africa, will be hosting an international conference in Cape Town from 7 to 9 November, 2012. The conference themed: Museums and the Idea of Historical Progress, explores the notion of utopia – the possibility of a future society free from the difficulties of the present. This ideology has been inextricably linked to the idea of historical progress.
The idea of building a new and better society to this day underlies the values, visions and practices of museums around the world. The conception of the modern museum, at the time of its invention in various European countries during the age of high colonialism and industrial revolution, shares attributes of a modern utopia i.e. the notion that progress and equity is guaranteed by the state and manifest in society. Such ideas of progress alongside varieties of capitalism, socialism, liberalism, nationalism, colonialism, Cold War ideological battles and totalitarianism have emerged and existed, generating a myriad of social systems and ideologies as expressions of utopias to be achieved.
The conference will be launched on Tuesday evening (6th November) at the Castle of Good Hope. Delegates will be welcomed by ICOM-SA President and CEO of Iziko Museums, Ms Rooksana Omar and Manager of Arts and Culture for the City of Cape Town, Mr Zayd Mintry. The conference in discussing the important theme of historical progress in a world of fluidity and flux, is perhaps charting new perspectives for museums, trying to understand the past in the present and allowing for reflection on what the future might be like.
Highlights include plenary speakers, Mr Mokena Makeka of the Modila Trust who will share the vision of moving “Towards a New Museum: The Minotaur and Oracle.” Prof Susan Legene, from the Vrye University, In Amsterdam (Netherlands) will address the delegates on an equally interesting topic: “Powerful Ideas: Museums, Empire Utopias and Connected Worlds.” Other papers to be presented will address a wide range of topical issues.
Political, economic, social and cultural differences worldwide have inspired continuous reflection on human rights, tolerance, as well as recognition and acceptance of diversity in our societies, collectively dedicated to the possibility of living in peace and harmony. How do museums address these issues, and take into account that the substantial shits in the global landscape? Additional issues include the fall from grace of industrialism and capitalism, the violence and discrimination of post-colonialism, the broken promises of nationalism or even supra-nationalism, of socialist or communist internationalism.
Such familiar utopian ideologies no longer offer the prospect of a solution. Societies are now developing new, more interdisciplinary and global ways of rethinking these ideas. For some, this means that the world is heading towards a new utopian dream – one of less dependence on former colonial powers, greater political and economic cooperation and equal treatment of citizens amongst East-South cooperatives and developing nations. Or is this yet another mirage, another dystopia disguised as utopia?
The theme of progress and utopian ideals is of great significance for museums in the present, and (South) Africa in particular. Recent archaeological discoveries in Africa challenge Eurocentric classification systems that were used in colonial (South) Africa, disempowering local histories and identities. Modern archaeology continues to struggle with techno-centric terms like ‘Stone Age’ and privileges text over artefacts. The types of objects are also important to consider. Are artefacts simply inert evidence of past events, or are they sentient objects, having legal and moral claims on humans? An examination of objects’ rights in conjunction with our responsibilities to society today is one way of striving to overcome past dystopias.
The conference, bringing together the past, present and future, address a number of key questions: can utopias be recognised in the history of our museums and their collections? Have museums documented utopias of the past – and if so, how? Should museums be forums for reflecting the intellectual promises of the utopian world and existing conditions? Do museums have the responsibility of discussing the aforementioned issues, and how might this be implemented, if so? Does the promise of new utopias require an international ethical reconsideration of the existing distribution of museum collections? What might this look like in practice, and do museums of the South have any new or innovative insights to offer?
Such a role for museums is probably linked to its past of extolling the virtues of modernism through the myriad of objects, but also to acknowledge that the limitations of the modern era, or indeed of the post-modern. What indeed can historical progress mean in a world whose multiple utopias up to now need radical revision or jettisoning? Can the museum rise to a challenge of displaying its accumulated objects and knowledge in ways that make us think of our everyday life with new and provocative lens? Perhaps there are not one but multiple trajectories of historical progress which need to be accounted for in our collections, our exhibitions and to challenge what we think of the present and the future.
ABOUT IZIKO MUSEUMS
Iziko Museums of South Africa (Iziko) operates 11 national museums, the Planetarium, the Social History Centre and 3 collection specific libraries in Cape Town. The museums that make up Iziko have their own history and character, presenting extensive art, social and natural history collections which reflect our diverse African heritage. Iziko is a public entity and non-profit organisation which brings together these museums under a single governance and leadership structure. The organisation allows *free access to all individuals on commemorative days, as well as unlimited free access to individuals aged 18 and under (excluding the Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium).
For more information about Iziko Museums visit www.iziko.org.za
Issued by: Melody Kleinsmith
Communications Coordinator, Iziko Museums of South Africa
Telephone +27 (0) 21 481 3861
Facsimile +27 (0) 21 481 9620
Cell 073 107 4955
On behalf of: President of the International Council of Museums South Africa (ICOM – SA)
More Info: http://www.iziko.org.za
No of Images Uploaded: None