Frameworks of representation: A design history of the District Six Museum in Cape Town
Hayes-Roberts, Hayley Elizabeth
MetadataShow full item record
Since 1994, the District Six Museum, in constructing histories of forced removals from District Six, Cape Town, commenced as a post-apartheid memory project which evolved into a memorial museum. Design has been a central strategy claimed by the museum in its process of making memory work visible to its attendant publics evolving into a South African cultural brand. Co-design within the museum is aesthetically infused with sensitively curated exhibitions and a form of museumisation, across two tangible sites of engagement, which imparts a unique visual language. The term design became extraordinarily popular in contemporary Cape Town, where the city was - in 2014 -the World Design Capital. Yet at the same time as design was being inscribed into the public imaginary, it was simultaneously curiously undefined although influential in shifting representational aesthetics in the city. This research seeks to ask questions about this proliferation of interest in design and to examine this through a close reading of the work of the District Six Museum situated near District Six. In particular, micro and macro design elements are explored as socio-cultural practice in re-imagining community in the city that grew out of resistance and cultural networks. Various design strategies or frameworks of representation sought to stabilize and clarify individual and collective pasts enabling and supporting ex-residents to reinterpret space after loss, displacement and separation and re-enter their histories and the city. Post-apartheid museum design modes and methodologies applied by the District Six Museum as museumisation disrupts conventional historiographies in the fields of art, architectural and exhibition design, where the focus is placed on temporal chronologies, in a biographic mode profiling examples of works and designers/artists. Instead, the research contextualises the work of design as making in a more open sense, of exploring the very constructedness of the museum as a space of method, selection, process and representation thereby asking questions about this reified term design as method and practice. The designing ways of the District Six Museum contribute to understanding idioms mediated through design frameworks allowing for a departure from the limited ways design history has been written. Through an unlayering of projects, practices and an examination of archival case studies, exhibition curation, the adaptive reuse of buildings and through institutional rebranding my argument is that the particularities of the claims to design work at the District Six Museum provide a rich case for relating to other contemporaneous processes of making apartheid’s spatial practices visible as projects such as this claim community. Therefore seeking to demystify how this community museum ‘making’ has been fashioned through an investment in various design disciplines, forms and practices revealing the inherent complexity in doing so.