Space is Place

Posted: March 27, 2012 by elyssamayer in Uncategorized

The first article “Mapping Memories: Politics, Place and Identity in the District Six Museum” discusses the various representations that museums, or physical forums, shape, create and reconstruct our memories and interpretations. McEachers places great importance on the associated identity that is created in the post-apartheid era in South Africa, specifically in the District 6 of Cape Town. The District 6 museum is a place of engagement with the past, present and future which fuels the retention of memory. She argues that the narrative of memory is constructed by these places “in the light of the discourses of the present, and in present day interests”. The stories of individuals affected by apartheid, and its legacy, become a symbol of their history and objects, and the places that hold these objects facilitate this memory. The stories of the past not only allow a remembering of the history, but also allows for the creation of a new identity which fuses both the past and the present lived experiences. The author discusses extensively the use of the map of District 6 as a mnemonic device in which ‘survivors’ write themselves into the map. In her discussion of “The Mapping of Memory” she demonstrates how the assertion of feelings or recollections onto an object is what gives it meaning. The spaces in which these objects are housed is also given importance by “turning space into place”. These spaces allow for a contextual engagement with the objects, where the objects themselves are only mediators to the stories.

The article by Heumann expresses the importance of the spaces that are the residences of these objects. From a curators perspective, Heumann believes that “museums are the tangible evidence of a society” and are integrally connected to their history, culture, identity, spirit and pride. His perspective of the elusiveness of objects allows an analysis of the construction, authenticity, and placement of these objects and why they mean, or do not have significance. Heumann reiterates that an objects reification cannot be understood without context, knowledge and meaning. The value of the object is only affirmed by the context of it, whether fabricated, ‘real’, or understated. The story transfers meaning to the objects, and thus the object(s) transfer meaning to the space.

The third and final article provides a limited, weak and disjointed perspective. Overall I did not enjoy it very much. This article echoed many of the other key points that we have discussed and it did not provide me with much additional perspective.


Do every day (seemingly meaningless) objects still have value, even if they are not displayed in a museum?

Who has ‘ownership’ over how the object is viewed, reified or preserved?

If museums are cultural forums, then who should decide what is expressed and in what way?

  1. tupakkat says:

    Hey Elyssa,

    I think your last question is really essential for any discussions pertaining to museums.

    Particularly Patricia Penn Hilden’s article that was originally designated for week 11 but then taken out, voiced a heavy critique about who makes these decisions and what role African people actually do or do not play in the exhibition of African arts. Not being an insider to the circles of boards and directors and other museum people, I can only assume that her critique must be somewhat justified and that the colonial gaze still persists in many museums in the West.

    The District Six Museum, however, provided a great example for an alternative, where those people, whose (his) story is actually displayed, are involved on a much deeper level, they create and explain the museum and they themselves visit it.

    I am not suggesting that museums should not display “foreign” things or that everything should remain in its original locale. But I understand the point of criticism that many Western museums take ownership of things, histories and stories that are not only not their own but that have been looted and plundered. To bring someone into the museum who happens to be an African-American (who knows where his original roots lie) and give him the role of the “authentic indigenous African expert” who can (of course under supervision of the white museum board of directors) explain the “true meaning” to the interested white middle-class audience is in my opinion a very lame attempt to hide the colonial remnants.

    So, yes, arts and things from all over can and should be displayed but I think that constantly decisions have to be made whether this is a mere economic and profit driven event -then all that counts is what attracts most people and is least controversial- or whether it is supposed to express someone’s (his)story. In that case, the people themselves should decide how it id done.

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