Working at the Weltkulturen Museum has been an enriching experience. Over the past three and a half months I have learnt many skills that will develop my competencies as a curator and cultural collaborator. It has been a privilege to work in a museum space that is dedicated to creating new knowledge production and continues to question its heritage as a museum with approximately 70 000 ethnographic objects and a large collection of contemporary art.
The majority of my time at the Weltkulturen Museum was spent working as a project assistant for the South African exhibition, A Labour of Love that will open at the Museum in December 2015. In my first month, Ms Gabi Ngcobo who is a co-curator with Dr. Yvette Mutumba was based in Frankfurt. Whilst she was here we brought the majority of the South African art collection to the Weltkulturen Labor. We systematically unpacked the artworks and as a team analyzed each work by every artist. This was a significant process as it allowed every artwork to be given the due respect and attention. Approximately 170 artworks were chosen during this process. It was amazing to have the chance to look at a collection of artworks from my country and to come into close contact with works by some highly respected and some relatively unknown artists.
Throughout my time I have been involved in curatorial meetings and discussions related to the exhibition, providing input where necessary. Significantly, these meetings have enabled me to listen and see how curators unpack artworks and start looking for themes that emerge. I was also part of staff meetings at the museum that allowed me to see how topics and issues are discussed.
Much of my time at the museum was involved in the process of researching towards A Labour of Love. One of my main tasks was to transcribe a number of interviews between curators and South African artists. These interviews provide vital primary material that will be used to address the art and for the publication that will accompany the exhibition. Through this process I was able to discover a number of things new to my knowledge. I learnt how questions are directed, how these questions are further elaborated on and the practicalities of conducting an interview such as using good recording devices. After transcribing I was involved in the editing of these interviews, which helped my critiquing skills.
Further to this I interviewed Dr Yvette Mutumba, head of the Africa collection at the Weltkulturen Museum, about the prints in this collection for an article that will be published in the Art in Print journal later this year. This process allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the content in this exhibition. Other research I completed included writing short biographies about the various artists who have work in the collection. I enjoyed this as it helped me position each artist and to find out what has happened to them since 1986 when the work was collected.
Another project during my time at the Weltkulturen Museum required me to look for funding from various companies. The main intention for sourcing this funding is to bring the exhibition to South Africa in the near future. I have found this process to be challenging and disheartening as currently I have had no positive feedback from any companies. Nevertheless they are important skills to learn as I look towards future projects that will require funding.
From a practical perspective I have been involved in logistical aspects such as framing. Together with project coordinator, Ms Nina Huber, we carefully went through a range of frames that could be used for the framing of prints in the exhibition. We also discussed how they should be framed and what colour best suited the prints. Part of this task was to unframe a large selection of prints.
Being involved in the Weltkulturen Museum´s education department has enriched my experience in Frankfurt. It was quite astonishing to see such a well-equipped education centre in just one of the many museums in Frankfurt. It is uncommon to see this in South Africa. I assisted Ms Stephanie Endter, head of education at the museum and the artist, El Hadji Sy in the running of an educational workshop in May. El Hadji Sy is a Senegalese artist whose retrospective exhibition is currently running at the Weltkulturen Museum. The workshop was with teenage students who are recent immigrants to Frankfurt. Despite the language and communication barriers I was fascinated to see how art can become its own means of communication. It was also exciting to see how El Hadji Sy´s art inspired the work of the students. The workshop culminated in a successful art sale where works of art were sold at a local flea market outside the museum. Each student was able to make a profit which was a good lesson in the marketing and economics of the art world.
Further to this I attended a number of educational workshops at the museum to get more perspective on how they are facilitated. It was interesting to see the broad range of ages that attended these workshops.
The other main focus of my involvement with the education department was to help brainstorm and develop ideas and content for the educational programmes that will take place during A Labour of Love. One of the specific ideas is to get students to engage with the printmaking genre, which is so prevalent to South Africa and the collection. An idea I had for the museum was to obtain a printing press so that students can make prints after engaging and viewing the exhibition. A press will be brought to the museum during the exhibition and this will be used for the duration of the exhibition. To date other interesting ideas have been generated which include inviting graphic artists based near Frankfurt to facilitate workshops and to do talks.
During July I have been assisting the South African artist, Sam Nhlengethwa, who is in residency here at the Weltkulturen Museum. Some of Nhlengethwa´s art was collected in 1986 for the museum. He has been invited to engage with these pieces and the rest of the collection now nearly 30 years later. It is a special experience to watch an artist recover a historical period and now review a collection that is quite personal to him and through this process find new ways of seeing. It has been a privilege to listen and to be mentored by a master artist.
In a broader context, there have been many moments of deep learning during my residency at the Weltkulturen Museum. This time has allowed me to be exposed to many new artworks and objects from different parts of the world. I have been made aware of a rich printmaking and artistic tradition in Papua New Guinea, I have been exposed to artefacts from parts of South America and I have been shown an image archive that has recorded many moments of history that take me back in time. I also feel that through this cultural exchange, the staff have gained a greater understanding of what is currently happening in South Africa with regards to the current contemporary art scene.
Daniel Hewson, April – Juli 2015, Weltkulturen Museum Frankfurt