Targeted Candidate II [Iziko’s response to Goniwe]

Jatti Bredekamp et al, 11 September 2006

[On 1 September 2006 Jatti Bredekamp, CEO of Iziko Museums, responded to Thembinkosi Goniwe’s concerns about the South African National Gallery’s notice for the position of trainee curator. Goniwe’s intervention was initially communicated by email to Emma Bedford of the SANG on 28 July (See “Targeted Candidate”). Bredekamp copied Iziko’s response to 27 persons, most of whom received Goniwe’s original mail. On 4 September I emailed Bredekamp requesting permission to reproduce Iziko’s response online. Later that day Khwezi Gule added his voice to the debate, followed by Mokgabudi Amos Letsoalo, who had been one of the first to comment on the issues raised by Goniwe. Subsequently Mark Hipper joined the debate. The discussion of Iziko’s response went online on 11 September, without Bredekamp’s letter since I had not received a reply to my request. Some of the respondents to the debate were familiar with Iziko’s letter, having been on the initial list of recipients of the email exchange; others were not. Permission to post Iziko’s response online was finally granted on 16 October 2006. MP]

Dear Thembinkosi Goniwe

With reference to the above, I wish to respond on behalf of Iziko to your open letter of 28th July to Emma Bedford of Iziko’s Art Collections Department.

The lengthy debate started by your letter provides an opportunity to engage with the issues raised. For me, there appear to be two specific issues in relation to the advertisement for a Trainee Curator of Contemporary Art – namely, the qualifications required and the terminology used. While we recognise that knowledge of the history and theory of art is a basic requirement for training in curatorship in an art museum, equivalent qualification in the subject, from institutions other than universities, will be considered.

Although different perspectives on the use of the term ‘historically disadvantaged’ are valid, it should be emphasized that merit and ‘historical disadvantage’ are not mutually exclusive. Our advertisement used this term to accord with the requirements of the transformation grant received from the national Department of Arts and Culture. However, the issue of terminology is complex and there is little consensus on preferred usage. We welcome debate and suggestions on more appropriate terminology.

These concerns are part of broader issues of transformation in the education, museum and heritage sectors. Iziko supported Emma’s application for funding to the Department of Arts and Culture for the mentorship position as a step forward in addressing the serious problem of demographic imbalance in art museum curatorship.

The debate also stimulated a discussion on a number of other matters that could be barriers to transformation. As you know, many public forums have taken place at Iziko South African National Gallery in the past and I affirm the need for Iziko to engage in an open and transparent way with its public and diverse stakeholders. It was agreed that our Education and Public Programmes Department will organise a public forum, focusing on wider issues of transformation in Iziko.

We appreciate your willingness to initiate debate and to express your views openly and frankly. The number of participants and viewpoints expressed in this debate – both positive and negative – confirmed the importance of Iziko South African National Gallery as a cultural institution in the process of transformation. We remain committed to continued engagement.

Kind regards
Jatti Bredekamp
CEO: Iziko Museums

12 Comments

  1. Wandile Kasibe | January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am
     

    I fully agree with what you are saying Mark, but i think Thembi's point comments on the manner in which the advert is being communicated across to the public. Its targeted applicants are unclearly and ambiguously stated and i think that is where the main problem is. Now, Khwezi and Mokgabudi are raising other very interesting points regarding transformation which i think mirrors precisely what is happening at these "white" dominated institutions including yours. You talk about the fact that you need to have first baked that cake in order to eat it, my apologize if i am not putting it the right way. I find it very much interesting for that statement to have come from someone whose head of department did everything in her power to "other", stereotype and use me (Wandile) as her object of rejection when i was only trying to pursue a Masters degree in you department. You know this Mark, because i was under your supervision and you know exactly why i had to leave Rhodes University and come down to Michaelis in Cape Town. Its actually you who suggested that i should rather apply to Fort Hare or Michaelis and i want to appreciate you for that, but then i understand there is nothing more you could have done to save me from being treated as the "other", who could not and probably still cannot occupy spaces occupied by people of lighter complexion because of what i have come to term as "Politics of the Skin and Language". I have lived with that pain of being "othered" as i had expressed to you four years ago before i left that part of South Africa. In as much as i regret the experience, i on the other hand embrace it as part of my story, the one (story) that i will tell every where i go, to whom ever i want to tell. Because, it is in my belief that without that negative experience of being an "academic pariah" i probably would not have come down to Michaelis and get the opportunity to work with great and creative minds. All that i wanted to do at Rhodes was to bake that "cake" to which you have made reference earlier on and then possible feed myself from it but guess what that "cake" was thrown back at me and i had to take it down to Cape Town (Michaelis) with me as you had suggested. The good news is that Michaelis saw a potential in that very same "cake" that your head of department threw in my face. Now i am finishing off my Masters degree in fine art. I personally wish that there was a way that your department can thoroughly engage itself or get engaged on issues of transformation that Kwezi and Mokgabudi are talking about. What i think is needed in our "post-apartheid" evironment is a discourse that will heal and hurt at the same time, the one that has a potency to comfort and discomfort simultaneously, so that nothing can really be left unattended to. Because now we are having a situation of many institutions and academics who will do anything in their level best to defend what needs to be abolished in our society namely "white" sepremacy and the normalisation of "whiteness". The reason why these "white" institutions still have guts to resist change, it is simple because "whiteness" has not been problematised and made strange yet. The discourse on "whiteness" is still on the margins of our collegial discourses. Why? How will we achieve transformation if "whiteness" still exnominates itself as the colour while in the very same movement racialises other bodies as "people of colour". I am not going to delve into this now, because that is a separate discourse with which this country will grapple for a long long time. I just wish that we could see where the stuggle is, it is not in the "blackness" as many "white" bodies have suggested but it is in the (in) visibility of "whiteness" and in the lack of scrutiny on that invisibility. In conclusion a week ago i hosted a seminar entitled: Revisiting Identites/Positionalities in a Changing South African Socio and Geopolotical Climate where these issues came strongly during our first session and i have the feeling that such discourses of that nature really need to be taken into the very hearts of Institutions such as Rhodes University so that discourses regarding transformation do not just end in theoretical terms but also get proper implementation and follow up. I hope to hear from you all (Excuse my errors)

    Khaw' Phinde Mzala

    Regards

    Wandile Goozen Kasibe

    Reply
  2. Khwezi Gule | November 9, 2006 at 12:00 am
     

    To all Participants

    I have been following the discussions regarding the advertisement for the position of trainee curator at ISANG. However I have reserved my comments so far because I did not want to risk restating what others had already said more succinctly. The letter by the CEO of Iziko Museums, Jatti Bredekamp prompted me to revisit some of the points that were made by Goniwe and other people because I do not think that Mr Bredekamp's response addresses these issues adequately and to add some suggestions of my own.

    There are as lot more things at stake than terminologies. My reading of Goniwe's response to the advertisement was that contained in the motivation behind the ad, is a strategy to exclude certain individuals from being eligible to apply for this position. This goes to the intentions of the people who were drafting this advertisement and such intentions will not be disguised by changing the wording on the ad. Having said that there is a need for trained curators in South Africa and improving the curatorial practices that do exist but the disturbing feature of the way that the ad is framed is that this trainee has no job security (seeing that it is only offered for one year). Will this person have full time employment after the year of training is over? Secondly, taking into account that many of the people who are called curators in South Africa today do not have any formal training as curators and are largely self-taught, why can the Iziko museums not give the candidate full benefits and responsibilities of a curator within the Iziko structure? What we would not want to see is the Iziko museums using the trainee as cheap labour and s/he being in a position where they are having to be in perpetual "training" and where they have no capacity to determine in what works are purchased and where they are not able to curate shows of their own as others have already stated.

    Basically I think the whole issue has to do with what kind of transformation you want. Whether you want only a demographic shift or a conceptual/structural one as well. There has to be a recognition that the incumbent would also bring certain skills to the table which need to be recognised and encouraged so that they do not simply become functionaries or at worst errand boys/girls. The other point that was made by the responses from Goniwe, Moses and Letsoalo is that there are people who are sufficiently qualified to hold the position of curator but lack a degree in art history (or official validation), for instance some curators are already curatorial work but in alternative spaces or working independently or even within recognized museums but have not been given credit for the work they have been doing and little opportunity to grow. Of course when one enters a museum environment there are other dimensions of curatorship that come to play such as managing the collections but all of us have had to learn these things while we are in full-time employment and are enjoying the benefits of full-time employment. Therefore it is not the letter of the ad that must be called into question but the intention.

    There needs to be a more sustained and comprehensive programme (not project) of training new curators and empowering the one who are already in the field as opposed to quick-fix solutions. The larger institutions have to take a greater share of this responsibility by formalizing training, access to training, arranging exchange programmes and collaborations between institutions not only in the same city but across the country, engendering transparency in hiring practices, instituting curatorial workshops and seminars both locally and internationally, ensuring that curators, especially trainee curators are able to attend important biennales and conferences. It helps no one for the same people to be travelling to Venice and Dakar all the time.

    This, in my view, is the only way that one will get away from situations where people are constantly saying: there aren't enough black curators or there aren't trained black and women curators. The heads of museums and art training institutions in consultation with the widest range of people already working in the filed (and not the usual suspects) ought to structure such a programme with specific outcomes.

    Very best

    Khwezi

    [originally mailed 4 September 2006 to Bredekamp and Goniwe, and copied to others]

    Reply
  3. Ijeoma Uche-Okeke | October 10, 2006 at 12:00 am
     

    As a foreigner in South Africa (though I personally do not regard myself in that light, as a daughter and citizen of the African Continent whereverer I go within the continent is 'home') I am constantly made aware over and over again of the very complex and I daresay strange racial and social dynamics that exists in this country. And I just want to scream out 'ENOUGH!''

    All the respondents to the 'controversial' IZIKO advertisement all have variations of truth in their observations and comments, but since I am not a judge it is not my place to speak about these 'truths'. I also crave the indulgence of South Africans in the event that some of my comments 'sting' like a bee.

    As a black female non-South African, I can relate to some of the concerns raised by some of the respondents with regards to the various challenges faced by black persons in the most sectors in SA. I however agree with Mr. Hipper that it is more constructive to view this kind of thing as an opportunity rather than another obstacle in a long line of difficulties.

    To attain the goal of competing favorably against their 'white' counterparts, South African blacks must begin to change their thinking, I hate to use the word 'entitlement' but that attitude needs to go! I am not saying it applies in this instance but there are quite a number of cases where it does.

    I am personally not particularly interested in the 'racial' debate though it does affect me as a black person, I however think it is imperative that we surmount that obstacle and begin to regard ourselves as equal players in whatever sector we wish to compete in. That means that we must struggle to equip ourselves with the necessary 'expertise' and 'know-how'. The time for whining is over, it is time to act.

    As Mark says any opportunity whether we think it presented in the 'wrong' way is worthwhile if it takes us a step further to our goal. We should also be truthful with ourselves and accept our our capabilities and inabilities.

    i do not aim to offend anybody's sensibilities but the truth often 'bites'.

    Ijeoma Uche-Okeke

    Reply
  4. Smooth | October 10, 2006 at 12:00 am
     

    To all Participants,

    I really do agree with Ijeoma-Uche Okeke's point of view that there should be a change in the way black South Africans think around issues of transformation and issues related to previously white-dominated institutions. I must say from the onset that I am also a foreigner but I have had a relationship with South African art scene since 2004 when I first visited. Now to the issues at stake, I have been following the unnecessary contestations and play-around semantics from a distance and just hope my contribution will make some little sense. I had the opportunity in the course of my recent study visit to do an internship at the SANG and I realised that the majority of interns are mainly westerners with the exception of myself and maybe few others, who may or may not be both white or black South Africans? Whose problem is it that black South Africans are not interested in their institutions but are always looking for permit me to say, "a white scapegoat." I am black and I am African and because it was important that I do an internship in an art institution, I did it.

    The earlier black South Africans shed the welfarist mentality, the better. This is not to say that I do not appreciate the recent history of South Africa with regards to Apartheid.

    I remember my interchange with a black young South African on why she left her position at the gallery, she was more interested on whether I discovered an ongoing transformation at the gallery during my internship. In reality, she left the gallery because she got a more lucrative offer elsewhere. I have always wondered if black curators of the senior or middle cadre will be willing to remain as curators at the gallery if a more lucrative (in terms of material) is offered them. I have also wondered why more black South African artists and curators are more interested in living and practicising abroad, if one takes into account the fact that freedom has been assured.

    I will close by rephrasing Ijeoma-Uche Okeke, the issue is not about raciality nor competence, it is also not the funny diatribe being ventilated nor patronage , rather the question is how do we get the system of transformation to work from the top. By this I mean how do you get the relevant organ of government to ensure that its dominant transformation agenda is effective. At the same time, I would rather black South Africans start re-thinking their reactions to pertaining issues, but not by selling the red herring.

    I also hope I have not offended sensibilities of both the person who struggles with political correctness and the other who struggles to re-echo the voice of his idol.

    Reply
  5. Mokgabudi Amos Letsoalo | December 9, 2006 at 12:00 am
     

    Thobela,

    I agree with Khwezi that the real issues that have been highlighted concerning the Iziko museum's advert are not being addressed by Mr Bredekamp's letter.

    He seems to be focussing on the technicality of the letter advert and failing to clarify the stand and intentions of the advert in as far as Iziko museum's target regarding their potential trainee. Other issues that were raised are institutional transformation at Iziko museum and many others around the country that seems to be lacking behind.

    It seems as if many of these heritage institutions are content with having young inexperienced black professionals to work for them because then that gives them a good excuse for not instituting transformation. The excuse is always that there are no experienced black professional to fill the senior positions. And yet when they do get black professionals who could be a threat to their positions, they will give them job contracts that do not offer job security so that they will eventually leave the institution. In other instances, the experienced and capable black professionals (of which there are many of them in the country), they will never be given any opportunity at all or if they do get opportunity, their job will deliberately be made so unpleasant or impossible so that they will eventually leave and then they will say, institutions are not transformed because "it is difficult to keep black professionals".

    The fact of the matter is, while there may be transformation in other sectors i.e Mining, Banking, Sport, etc. the fact of the matter is, there is NO Transformation in the Arts and Heritage industry and there has never been.

    I must also differ with what Moleleki Ledimo who seemed to be defending Iziko museum. While the programme they are starting is a positive thing, as a public institution, they have to be accountable to us as stake holders especially when they ask funding from the government in the name of addressing the lack of skills in the heritage sector from the previously disadvantaged. We have every right to know who their target is and what their intentions are and also interrogate them to find out if this is not just a ploy to get a funded cheap labour in the name of training.

    Mokgabudi

    [originally emailed on 6 September 2006 to Gule, Bredekamp & Goniwe, and copied to others]

    Reply
  6. mark Hipper | January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am
     

    Dear John

    I have to confess I am not entirely convinced that "much of the practical, institutional technological and bureaucratic know-how involved in fields such as curating, or directing can be assimilated pretty quickly" and that it is only "the vision thing" that is elusive. Curators as you say have sort of become artists, but their art is hardly merely a vision thing. And art has changed.

    In curatorial practice the vision thing you speak of is really only of merit when it arises out of, or is substantiated by, thoughtful research and a depth of understanding within that field of research and this is not simply practical stuff picked up as an intern or assistant. It is a way of thinking and refining an idea that does require training and I do think that much of that training would very suitably, and necessarily, be acquired through an Art History degree. A discourse is a discipline.

    Reply
  7. mark Hipper | January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am
     

    Dear Wandile,

    It sounds like Michaelis was the right place for you to be and I am pleased

    to know that you are doing well. This is not the place to do this, but I

    would be happy to clarify what are clearly misunderstandings in regard to

    why you were not accepted into our M A program which have nothing to do with issues around 'othering' or skin colour.

    Reply
  8. Wandile Kasibe | February 10, 2006 at 12:00 am
     

    Ndaze ndakuva zwindini!

    Dear Mark, it is good to hear from you after so many years. Yes you are very much right, Michaelis has become more like an academic "home" for me, a home away from my other "home" (Border Technikon now Walter Sisulu University).

    With regards to my response to your comment which is basically the summary of what i have had to endure for at least four years know, i must state that unless i am provided with the actual reason as to why my application for that particular program was turned down by your department, it must therefore be known that i will never be at peace with that strange encounter. Then again I suppose you are very much right by stating that may be this is not the right place for me to express this concern. In as much as i on hand wish that there was a way that i can possible engage on a personal level with the she who made it clear to me that i was not good enough for that particular program, without giving me a chance to prove myself. On the other hand i have the strong sense that time will in the near "future" make it possible for me to finally meet her and unravell my pain once and for all.

    Right now it really does not help neither of us to argue over this matter, because i am the one who felt discriminated because of what she termed as "my inadequacy" and i am not going to apologize for being an "object" of someone else's rejection. I just want to know why was i rejected?

    The only favor you could do me is not try to make it as if i am making up this experience but to foward my email (gwandile@gmail.com) to her, so that she and i can put this matter to rest.

    Ndisatsho nangoku!

    Reply
  9. mario pissarra | January 1, 1970 at 12:00 am
     

    Unknown artist, you are very brave attacking individuals without giving your name. Perhaps you can be a known artist if you stand up and take responsibility for your convictions? Perhaps demonstrate some of that bold action that you are supposedly advocating?

    Reply
  10. unknown artist | November 11, 2006 at 12:00 am
     

    To you my brothers

    Remember the End of the world war 2 brought about the Afrikan Nationalist Uprising to end white domination in Afrika and other Native Countries like India.Because of racism they faced during the war fight alongside their Colonial Master they thought they need to rule themselves.While that was happening in Amerika the Civil rights Movement in the 60s forced changes in the Museums.Afrikan Amerikans felt that Museums misrepresented them.Museums were percieved by many Afrikan Amerikans to be unsatisfactory; serving a cultural elite, stuffed primarily by whites reflecting white values:This is the situation we have in South afrika today and remember Afrikan Amerikans had to fight to get what they wanted .Same exhibition got concelled due to demonstrations and we are not going to wait for you tell us what to do. You have been on the other side of the battered bread for too long.Reding a Book by Moira G Simpson gave me energy to say this and Thembinkosi you are right my brother.Today Amerika has more Afrikan Amerikan Museums because thy did fight for their Rights and we will fight for our rights too.In the past the same people who are claiming to be Afrikans today during apatheid they were Europeans.We had our own bus stops and they used their own and today they are Afrikans. You might all think am going out of the main point but lets call a spead a spead.Musems in South Afrika are too white and few blacks who want to be hournarary white like Khwezi and Gabi.

    Reply
  11. unknown artist | November 11, 2006 at 12:00 am
     

    you all must read this book and see what am saying. MAKING REPRESENTATIONS; Museums in the Post Colonial Era. With our newly Democracy we must fight back if it means having our own Museums in SOWETO we must do that. Native South Afrikan Museums Association, for non white Museums.

    Reply
  12. John Nkabinde | December 11, 2006 at 12:00 am
     

    Iziko museum people remember John Cotton Danna said, "Learn what the Community needs, fit the Museum to those needs". Cameron also said,"Society will no longer tolerate institutions that either in fact or in apearance serve a minority audiance of the Elite" Am sure you institution so serve the Elite, its still very very white and you can not run away from that point. Do we need to go back to the Civil rights movements in the 60s?We can toyi toyi at the your Iziko Museum if thats what you want.We need representation and you are denying us using your racist accademic terms.You only respect your accademic langauge, shame on you.

    Its not yet Uhuru guys, stand up for your rights. do not give up the fight Thembinkosi sisonke.

    Reply

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