The District Six Public Sculpture Project

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(All photographs are taken from the Public Sculpture catalog)

The District Six Museum is located in Cape Town, South Africa.  The museum is located in District Six, as a “result of exploration into the inner and outer working lives within the area.  The museum seeks to uncover the many places where the institution has been involved in ways which link it back to its founding momentum, but takes it beyond its original boundaries” (Bonita Bennett, City Site Museum: Reviewing memory practices at the District Six Museum).

An active relationship to the site has been at the core of the Museum’s existence.  Over the years, the relationship has been configured in different ways, but its embodiment both tangibly and metaphorically in the Museum space has remained constant.

In 1997, members of the community and museum came together in order to form what would later be called the “District Six Public Sculpture Project.”  Renate Meyer stated in the introduction of the exhibition’s catalogue that they “had decided that the exhibition would serve as a forum for different voices.  We did not therefore curate the exhibition in the traditional way, but saw ourselves as rather providing information, support and co-ordination to the participating artists” (Meyer, p.1).  Works were created to inform rather than dominate the landscape and visitors.  The artists had free reign on the sculpture but materials were important to reduce the possibility of vandalism or thief.  On opening day, Tony Morphet states that the “line between accident and intention had begun to waver a bit” as visitors questioned if something was a sculpture or had it been there before, just overlooked (Morphet, p.8).  As individuals continue down the paths to many different sculptures, they soon may start to piece together that the cardboard boxes could be the homes of returned district “sixers”.

This alternative form of sculpture not only stands for the physical markers of significant historical sites but also commemorating the people who once lived there.  The District Six Public Sculpture Project has opened up the questions of traditional sculpture exhibitions by asking both the staff and visitor to revaluate how, why and in what form public sculptures can operate within.  The sculptures not only make awareness of the emptiness of space, the void of what use to be, but also brings awareness of the people that still remain.  While the residents of District Six have long since been removed and resettled in other areas of Cape Town, the memories of their homes remain.

In an article written by Emma Bedford and Tracy Murinik, they state that:

“the need to remember every detail of what has been lost haunts those who have lost it: the instinct of the amputee to exercise the absent limb. The urgent desire to re-establish the security of what is known and familiar; of that what reminds you of yourself, and says to others that you exist.  The desolation that comes with losing your markers. The silence that comes being removed from your signals. The horror that consumes yourself now apparently invisible. Your existence doubted.  You’re being negated, nullified, vulnerable to dispersal by the wind, your roots un-rooted.  Your desires flouted; your needs unheard.  Your voice left thin and in articulable.  Your mind searching for proofs of what you are, and markers of what you were, and props for sustenance and survive” (Bedford, p. 12).

These are just a few of the feelings that can be felt by individuals that have been forced out of their homes and surroundings through the use of physical, mental, economic or a number of other forms of violence.  No matter what the form, the scars remain.  A poem written by Bedford and Murinik for the catalogue shows how the survivors of such tragedy need more than physicality:

“The need to remember to state your claim.

The need to remember to state your history.

The need to remember to state your family.

To stake your land. To plot your childhood.

To stake your humanity.

To hold on to your mind.

To resist the deadening losses.

To insist that it can never happen again.”  (Bedford, p.13)

Artist Clive van den Berg’s use of fire within his sculpture promoted “reflections on how we remember, of the scars that exist, and on how we envision ourselves into the future.  Invoking insight as to how we encounter memory, his images flickered into varying degrees of clarity and consciousness“(Bedford, p. 19).

For many returning residents, the sculpture project allowed for a moment for them to remember what use to be on the land.  For many, the “commemorative voices, voices of survivors, voices of family members, voices of veterans, voices of people who have been involved in these extreme situations and speak out of the voice of experience: I was there; I know what happened” can be called out to the artists and those who come to see the exhibition (Cobb, p. 15).

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I would like to personally thank the District Six Museum, staff, volunteers, and other participants in welcoming me into the museum in addition to helping me find my way into the history of the past and action of the present.

I would also like to thank the University of Illinois-Chicago Provost Award committee for receiving the grant that allowed me to work with the District Six Museum.

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*Sources:

Cobb, Daniel M. and Helen Sheumaker. Memory Matters. State University of New York Press. 2011

Bedford, Emma and Tracy Murinik.  “Re-membering that Place: Public Projects in District Six”.

The District Six Public Sculpture Project. District Six Museum. 1998.

Bennet, Bonita, Chrischene Julius and Carin Soudien. City – Site – Museum: Reviewing

Memory Practices and t he District Six Museum. District Six Museum. 2008.

Meyer, Renate. “Introduction”. The District Six Public Sculpture Project. District Six Museum.

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Culture Shut Down

During the winter of 2011/2 several of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s cultural institutions closed their doors to the public with many more soon to follow.  According to their website, the cause was “the failure of the country’s complex administrative apparatus to ensure operations through the design of adequate funding mechanisms”.  The result has caused cultural artifacts, important to the past and present of Bosnia-Herzegovina to remain unseen by locals and visitors.  Museums such as the Regional Museum and the Art Gallery have already closed in addition to the National and University Library.

Found in January 2012, Dr. Azra Aksamija, Assistant Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Dr. Maximilian Hartmuth, Historian/Art Historian at the Netherlands Institute in Istanbul, Turkey, along with academics,  artists, librarians and other cultural activists living around the world came together to create a plan to respond to the shut downs, respectfully naming the organization ‘CULTURESHUTDOWN.NET’. The organization has no ties to government or political parties but instead has the purpose to help create a debate on the importance of cultural institutions in the life of the country, both in theory and practice.  Through the use of multi-media and art projects, the organization hopes to bring world-awareness in drafting cultural policy recommendations for officials around the world, starting with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The organization states that they “are a global volunteer, non-profit network of scientists and cultural producers, not connected to any governmental institutions, or a political party.  As an open civic platform, we are welcoming contributions from authors of any ethnic, national, religious background or professional affiliation.  Our ultimate aim is to unite on the global level to help prevent destruction of cultural heritage that belongs to all people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and enriches World heritage” (their website).

The organization has numbered six objectives to their overall mission.  They are as followed:

“1.TO MAP STATUS QUO/PROVIDE INFORMATION to both local and global audience about the critical condition of cultural institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina

2.TO RAISE AWARENESS about the structural, political, and economic problems behind the problem of cultural shutdown, showing how the ethnic conflict continues to take place in post-Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina within the cultural sphere

3.To EXPRESS PROTEST against the retardation caused by stubborn ethnopolitics

4.To provide RESOURCES/TOOLS that can be useful for cultural producers by learning/from relevant case studies in different places

5.To CONNECT PEOPLE (cultural producers, policy makers, activists, etc) respecting their diverse religious/ethnic/national affiliations and based on their common aspiration for a peaceful and constructive coexistence, and thus encourage creation of a healthier civil society in the region

6.To INSPIRE NEW VISIONS for the future of coexistence in Bosnia-Herzegovina though pro-active visionary proposals and projects”

 *Day of Museum Solidarity – March 4, 2012*Sydney_MuseumofContemporaryArt_RosemaryLaing_1

(All photographs are from their website)

The past event for CULTURESHUTDOWN.NET’s mission is to create a Day of Museum Solidarity as an international cultural awareness campaign.  Dr. Aksamija and his colleges developed the campaign in order to bring awareness to all museums and individuals that if one museum can close, so can any other.  He is calling for museum officials, museum visitors and activists to join together by “symbolically ‘erasing’ one precious artwork or artifact, rending it inaccessible for the Day of Museum Solidarity”, as he states on the official website.  The website states that the directions to follow as followed: place yellow barricade tape in front of the chosen object.  The tape features the CULTURESHUTDOWN logo.  Once the tape is up, take a picture of the object being barricade from the public and then send the picture to the organization.

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Their website is: Cultural Shut Down  

Their ongoing project is amazing!! Keep updated with their own blog: craftivist-collective.com

Craftivist Collective

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We did it! With the help of hundreds of craftivistas we created a giant art installation made up of more than 600 stitched jigsaw puzzle pieces which was unveiled at Manchester’s People’s History Museum on Friday 1st March calling for an end to the global food crisis and child malnutrition. It was so big its really hard to even fit all of the jigsaws in one photograph!


We had over 40 members of the public and the contemporary craft scene gathered at the People’s History Museum in Manchester to see the result of the Jigsaw Project, which was launched last October on World Food Day to support Save the Children’s Race Against Hunger campaign (don’t forget to sign the petition if you haven’t already!). People stayed the whole night to take photographs of their favourite jigsaws, spot their own and have their photo taken proudly next to the installation…

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Craftivist Collective

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(Photo’s are from their main website)

“To expose the scandal of global poverty, and human rights injustices through the power of craft and public art.  This will be done through provocative, non-violent creative actions.” (http://craftivist-collective.com)

This is the manifesto of Craftivist Collective.  Started in 2009 by Sarah Corbett, she dreamt about creating a group as “a reaction of feeling like a burnt-out activist” (http://craftivist-collective.com).  Originally based in the United Kingdom when Corbett was in school, the collective has now become worldwide.  As stated in their “about you” section on the website, the collective “encourages individuals and groups to deliver [their] projects wherever they are in the world” in addition to supplying kits, instructions and anything else one might need to start the collective in their area.  In addition to physically creating crafts, the collective also sells the products to help provoke and encourage conversations about global injustice issues for those who aren’t as handy with a needle.

Their aim is to not only show how activism can be available to every person but also, that it can be full and empowering.  Rosa Martyn, one of the collective’s craftivists stated that “a spoonful of craft helps the activism go down.” (http://craftivist-collective.com)  The aim of the project is “to challenge people’s views and reach out to those who may have no have previously accessed activism and groups for social change.”  While every social movement that is occurring in the world is not meant for every individual, the Collective believes that there is still something that every person is individually passionate for.  Once that person finds their passion, it is just a matter of figuring out how to become active within the cause.  For the Collective, they believe that for those not wishing to stand on the front lines, picketing and spending their nights in tents, such as the activists of the Occupy movement, the alternative might be through art.

Betsy Greer coined the term ‘Craftivism’ as: “A way at looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper and your quest for justice more infinite” through the process of art.

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Their current project is the “Craftivist Jigsaw project”, in motion with emerging contemporary craft movement Mr. X Stitch, Deadly Knitshade and Hilary of Craftblog.  They are asking the craft community to help create a giant jigsaw to support Save the Children’s Race Against Hunger Campaign.  Via the website imapiece.fuse.ly, the project hopes to build an installation to raise awareness to children hunger and injustice.  The hope is that enough jigsaw pieces that state “I’m a piece” will bring awareness to viewer and bring about a positive change within their mind about how each visitor reacts upon walking away from the installation.

Other ongoing and past projects the Collective has been a part of can be found at their website: http://craftivist-collective.com/project-archive/.