inora

Inora Newsletter #43
Divers

More than a Museum:
THE ORIGINS CENTRE AT THE UNIVERSITY
OF THE WITWATERSRAND JOHANNESBURG

Construction work is well underway on the approximately 40 million rand Origins Centre at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

The primary objective of the Centre is to educate and inform the public by promoting the ancient heritage of southern Africa through an appreciation of rock art and the cultures of the people who produced it. The project was given life in 2000 by the then South African Minister of Tourism, Mr Valli Moosa, after an initiative from President Thabo Mbeki. It has broad-based support from both national and provincial government and is designed to meet all the criteria of a heritage project in the context of a developing country. The project has several key features
.

Museum

A national museum of rock art has grown out of the unrivalled collections of the Rock Art Research Institute (RARI) at the University of the Witwatersrand. This collection, surely one of the largest in the world, was acquired by the Institute and its precursors over more than a half-century. Some of the most magnificent items were collected in the first half of the twentieth century by methods that would not be countenanced today, but we are nevertheless assured that the images, far from weathering in the open sites where they were made, are now safely preserved. The archival component of the collection ranges from many examples of rock paintings and engravings to Reinhardt Maack’s 1917 copy of the so-called ‘White Lady of the Brandberg’ and the Abbé Henri Breuil’s copies of the same panel to an extensive collection of colour slides and copies of rock art throughout the world.

Using the latest technology, the Origins Centre museum will present its message in an engaging manner that is both informative and entertaining. There will be several large audio-visual experiences—such as a recreation of the San trance dance on a 120 degree screen. The narrative of the museum will be conveyed primarily through an audio tour in a number of languages and text panels. In addition, each section of the museum will have interactive touch screens that will allow those visitors who so wish to navigate their way at consider
able depth through each subject area.

Using the latest technology, the Origins Centre museum will present its message in an engaging manner that is both informative and entertaining. There will be several large audio-visual experiences—such as a recreation of the San trance dance on a 120 degree screen. The narrative of the museum will be conveyed primarily through an audio tour in a number of languages and text panels. In addition, each section of the museum will have interactive touch screens that will allow those visitors who so wish to navigate their way at considerable depth through each subject area.

(Above) Anthropomorphs and elands at Game Pass, a site open to the public.
Photo J. Clottes.

The rock art will be set in a wider context. The message that Africa and especially southern Africa is where humankind first developed language, art and modern cognitive behaviour will be empowering for school children in a post-apartheid South Africa. By focusing on neglected histories, including rock art made by San hunter-gatherers, Khoekhoe herders and farming Bantu-speaking people, the museum will promote an inclusive view of southern African history, thus contributing to nation building and reconciliation. Indigenous communities have been consulted, and input into the design and construction of the museum exhibits has been sought from diverse scholars, institutions and interested parties. It is a collaborative effort. There is a growing understanding of the significant contribution that cultural appreciation can make to recognizing the humanity of all people and to building a common identity. Culture offers hope by bringing the wisdom of our past to bear on our future. The Western world has long considered Africa to have been outside the mainstream of human achievement, a view now negated by international acceptance of a universal African heritage for all humanity.

Education

The development objectives of the Origins Centre embrace a commitment to serving a broad community. Through careful planning and the appointment of a fulltime education officer the Centre will target schools, universities, disadvantaged communities and the general public. Teachers and pupils will be able to assemble for workshops and specific educational programmes.

The Centre’s educational team has been working with national and local educational authorities and the South African Broadcasting Corporation to ensure that exhibitions and programmes connect with school curricula. Teachers will be motivated through a range of materials and aids, the first of which have already been produced. Education authorities with whom the Centre has been working expect to see some 40,000 students pass through the museum annually.

To mark the opening of the Origins Centre in early 2006, a three-hour documentary series will air on South Africa’s main TV channel. It will be accompanied by a sixpart educational series specifically made for high-school pupils.

At the tertiary level, the Origins Centre will be linked to the undergraduate and post-graduate courses in rock art and rock art site management that RARI currently offers through the University of the Witwatersrand.

Digitizing

RARI is presently constructing what will probably become the world’s largest online rock art collection by digitizing its entire archive of well over 100,000 records. This facility is now being expanded to include collections in museums and other institutions throughout South Africa. When on line, the rock art collection will be available to both researchers and the general public. Restrictions will be placed on the availability of certain information, such as the locations of vulnerable sites, and institutions will retain full copyright over their material.

Conservation

There is no doubt that South Africa’s rock art heritage is in jeopardy. Within the Origins Centre a key component will therefore be South Africa’s first dedicated rock art conservation laboratory. It is here that South Africa’s first fulltime professional rock art conservator will conduct his or her national conservation duties. The aim is to serve the entire African continent and to act as a facility to train other much-needed conservators. The centre has already entered into collaborative agreements with Algeria, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.

Working from the Centre, the conservator will see to the preparation of selected rock art sites for public visitation. There will be visitor centres, background information and trained guides drawn from local underprivileged communities. The Centre will thus make a contribution to poverty relief and much-needed job creation. Tourism is being developed in partnership with recognized San and other indigenous groups in the vicinity of rock art sites. Employment at these sites has begun to empower disadvantaged communities by helping them to earn a living from their own culture and to find a heritage niche.

Two public rock art sites have been in operation for some time: Game Pass at Kamberg in KwaZulu-Natal and part of the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg UNESCO World Heritage Site; and Wildebeestkuil, a rock engraving site near Kimberley. They were funded by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

A new beginning

The Origins Centre will open at the University of the Witwatersrand in February 2006. With its museum displays, meeting and lecture facilities, shop and café, it will become a cultural feature in Johannesburg, linked to the Apartheid Museum, MuseumAfrica and the Constitutional Court. It will also be linked to the Cradle of Humankind, an extensive area a few miles outside of Johannesburg which embraces the famous Sterkfontein and Swartkrans hominid fossil sites; it is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Origins Centre is an integral part of the Rock Art Research Institute that is directed by Dr Ben Smith (bws@rockart.wits.ac.za). Dr Geoff Blundell is director of the Centre (geoff@rockart.wits.ac.za). Francis Gerard is the project director (francis@totemproductions.tv).

J. D. LEWIS-WILLIAMS

http://rockart.wits.ac.za/origins/



| Homepage | Newsletter Index | Subscription | Links | Contact |
www.inoraonline.org