What happens when an artist and a historian join forces? Pure brilliance. Within the past year, two of Makhanda’s (Grahamstown’s) museums have taken on new curators for their priceless collections of artefacts, archives and artwork. Together, Zekhaya Gxotelwa and Gcobisa Zomelele are bringing a new vibrancy to Makhanda’s(Grahamstown’s) history.
In June, Gxotelwa was appointed as the new curator for the Observatory Museum in Bathurst Street.
Though the museum is still under construction, Gxotelwa stays busy getting to know the museum’s collection; boxes and boxes of old jewellery, household items, and archaic scientific instruments. Before moving to the Creative City, she worked at Robben Island in Cape Town as an exhibitions facilitator.
“I applied for this post because I thought I would learn more”, said Gxotelwa. “You get to be hands on in terms of curating the collection itself and getting to interact with people on a daily basis”.
Her approach to history and storytelling is far from boring, but incorporates multimedia ” as much as [history]is the same story, the fact that it now uses modern technology makes it easier for people to comprehend.”
Gxotelwa’s career passion stems from her interest in museums while in varsity in Cape Town; each time she visited a museum she always wanted to be “behind the scenes”, selecting the artefacts on display and showcasing them in new and creative ways.
“To display things that will talk to my language, that will cater for my group, let it be something that I can relate to.”, she emphasised.
“Sometimes you go into a museum and it’s not something that you can relate to, so I thought to myself, if I get an opportunity to work in a museum then I can express myself and be able to cater to other people who are my age or have similar life experiences”.
Zomelele is the Albany Museum’s curator by day and fine artist by night.
Her enthusiasm for art lends itself well to her responsibilities as a curator. “I wanted to look at a museum that had old artefacts but find new ways to exhibit them and make them relevant”, she said.
Zomelele stated that she was drawn to the Albany Museum in particular due to the museum’s impressive art collection, “the previous curators had studied history and I knew that the art collection had been neglected”.
“Art doesn’t age”, she said with a smile. “It’s like wine, the longer you keep it the more valuable it is!”
Though the art collection has Zomelele excited, her job comes with its own unique challenges.
“As the first black person to be appointed in this position there is pressure to create balance in terms of the histories of the blacks and the whites.”, she said.
“My strategy has been to work with what already exists and try to close the gaps.
“How do you have a museum in the 21st century that is still only focussing on a certain group, while it’s not representing the community? My job today is to make sure that the history of the entire community of Grahamstown is available in this museum.”
Zomelele is currently working with community members and Rhodes University staff to research the history of Fingo Village as well as the Frontier Wars.
* To Zomelele’s daughter Zinzo, we hope you enjoy seeing your mother in the newspaper. We are so happy to hear that you read the paper every week, please come visit us soon! Sincerely, the Grocott’s Mail team.