Tuesday, July 6, 2010

District Six Museum (Ubong)

Interning at the District Six Museum (D6M) thus far is best described as being first in line to the newest roller coaster ride in an amusement park; you do not exactly know what the experience will be like but you know you will have an awesome time, and your ride will pick up speed quickly (sometimes too quickly). Afterward you sometimes cannot wait to get off and feel like you will never get back on but you always do, and it is the best ride of your life! This roller coaster ride best describes the first month of my internship at D6M and with the other members of D6 Mafia (Dana Doran, Ibrahim Maali, Michael Blake, and Alison Kibbe). From my first day at D6, my bosses (if I must give them titles although this classification diminishes the communal, egalitarian atmosphere of the D6 workplace) had me working and working hard. D6M was undergoing efforts to expand the museum by adding the Homecoming Center one block away from the original church-turned-into-a-museum building and so us interns anticipated big days ahead of us as we would be assisting in this huge endeavor.

The exhibitions department, headed by a small woman but equipped with a vicious,spunky in-your-face-if-need-be attitude named Tina, was in the process of creating an exhibition about how forced removals changed, shaped, and transformed soccer in Cape Town and how soccer was used in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. The exhibition department also consisted of Chris, a kind and funny woman who always seemed to be busy with a thousands things to do by the day's end or panicky about the mistakes or aspects gone wrong in the exhibition (a sentiment felt by many at D6M including myself by the end of the process). Virgil, another guy with a sense of humor at D6, did tremendous work researching and compiling the information of the "Offsides" and "Fields of Play" exhibits of the new exhibition. Let me not forget to tell you about the other people involved in creating the new exhibition. Tina's significant other, Paul, along with the other members of the British Council, one of the sponsors of the addition to the museum, was involved in the year-long process of research and data formulation of the exhibition department. Other sponsors included Football Unites, Racism Divides (FURD), a British NGO that works with the sport to promote equality and fight against racism, homophobia, and other negative aspects of society. And last but not least is the Scan Shop, colloquially called the Scam Shop by some. The shop equipped D6M with the laborers and the hands-on support to build and construct the new exhibition but not without its share of mistakes and setbacks that spilled over to D6 Mafia helping to reverse their mistakes (my hands and fingernails may never recover).

Along with the exhibition department, the entire staff of D6 put everything on hold in order to help the exhibitions department and make the June 15th deadline (a wonderful date with which to share my birthday). Thulani and Dean, guys probably in their mid-twenties from the Collections department, created and compiled the audio and visual material for the "Offsides" and "Fields of Play" exhibits. Additionally, Marguax, an archive curator, and Mandy, the head of the educational department and in charge of us interns, also spent their times lending a hand or two with whatever the exhibitions department needed to be done. Bonita, the director of D6, helped as well whenever she was not busy in formal meetings with the sponsors of the new exhibition, giving tours of the progress we were all making, or holding meetings with various groups of people (She is always extremely busy).

All of these people kept my days extremely busy during those first couple of weeks and extended our workdays, but Dana, Ibrahim, Michael, Alison, and I were happy to stay in order to help finalize the exhibition and establish our place at D6M. We even committed our Saturdays and Sundays for the sake of the new exhibitions (Dana cannot find a better way to spend her Sunday afternoons than painting massive swooshes on an entire wall). I remember initially disliking my first day; I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. However, this sentiment quickly evaporated as the D6 roller coaster accelerated toward my birthday deadline and I not only found more work to throw myself into but felt a sense of belonging and appreciation as I contributed to more and more.

The work of us interns varied as we found our places at D6M but we mostly shared similar projects and tasks. We all had our share of peeling plastic off of life-sized soccer player figures and endlessly scraping our nails at the burnt corners. Painting represented our initiation into D6 Mafia as we all had to paint at least one wall, cabinet, etc. during any course of the day. But Dana shuffled mostly between painting giant swooshes on one gigantic wall of the "Fields of Play" exhibit and organizing pictures and captions of various football clubs on digital frames that would be displayed in the new exhibition. Alison took charge on organizing closets and compiling information of various football clubs such as the Bayana, Bayana national team and the Cape Ramblers to display in boxes in the "Field of Play" exhibit. Alison also made the outline of the swooshes and did the early painting of them with Michael before Dana took over the project. They initially had difficulty with the out-of-scale rendering of the wall but they eventually overcame that obstacle. Ibrahim and I mostly worked together with our projects. First, we transferred material from old display cases and transplanted them into newer, nicer-looking displays. For our next task, we reorganized a display of the East Ends Football Association and the Cape Football Association. We then compiled documents and pictures for another display case for an exhibit highlighting the administration of Coloured football clubs. After each one of us D6 Mafia members finished our respective projects, we then took on assignments from cleaning the exhibition space, painting walls or boards, sweeping, reorganizing, recaptioning, etc. The D6 roller coaster really went into hyperdrive during this period as the final days before the grand opening of the exhibit were coming to an end. However, the June 15th deadline came sooner than we knew it as we all worked tirelessly hours before the 6:00 pm grand opening of the Homecoming Center. The grand opening was an amazing success that D6 Mafia, D6M staff, and contributors to the new exhibition shared with ex-residents of District Six, community members, and the general public.

Now that the new exhibition has long been completed, D6 Mafia now has new assignments as its members split up to help the museum in ways that capture their respective interests. From the very beginning, Dana expressed her interest in working with Mandy and the educational department so accordingly, she has been researching and organizing information about other sites of forced removals in South Africa and from that, helping the department develop educational programming/packets. Alison's new assignment deals with the Prestwich Memorial Project, a controversial site in Cape Town as the city decides how to deal with the ancient burial in the midst of development around the sacred ground. Ibrahim and I are working with the redevelopment framework of D6. We are charged with translating the information of how the area plans to develop with respects to equity, restitution, and living memory so that former residents understand the future framework of their community. Ibrahim and I are also helping the museum brainstorm ways to preserve the memory of two historic sites in D6 with regards to future redevelopment. Michael now works on the publicity of the new exhibition and helps the D6 staff with their projects as well. Between these responsibilities, he makes time to continue the research of his senior thesis as he establishes his second home at the archives. With these new tasks ahead of us, D6 Mafia only embraces optimism as we learn more about the living history of D6, conduct research in the various topics of our projects, and hope to leave the D6 staff the information they need to restore justice to an area destroyed by apartheid.


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