The assembly of South African archaeological heritage at the British Museum: do trans-placed objects contribute to shared temporal identity?

Konigk, Raymund and Van Der Wath, Elana (2017) The assembly of South African archaeological heritage at the British Museum: do trans-placed objects contribute to shared temporal identity? In: 23rd Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists 2017, 29 August - 03 September 2017, Maastricht, The Netherlands.

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Due to historical connections and a common political system, Europe remains an attractive destination for South African migrants. In this context the British Museum presented the South Africa: the art of a nation exhibit from 27 October 2016 to 26 February 2017. In this study we consider how our heritage is reshaped due to globalisation by referring to three archaeological artefacts from the exhibit: the Makapansgat Pebble of Many Faces (3,000,000 BP); the Mapungubwe Rhinoceros (1250-90); and the Linton Panel (pre-1900). These objects are selected since the exhibit directly challenges the notion of what it means to be human (although they are employed to define a South African identity). The inclusion of the Makapansgat Pebble specifically makes the case that human imagination emerged in Africa; the exhibit claims “we are all descended from Africa, both in terms of our bodily structure and in the way that we act, think and feel”. In this way an attempt is made to incorporate exotic and ancient artefacts into a contemporary European locale which challenges the notion of citizenship and nationality.

As ‘newcomers in Europe’ we will use this paper to reflect on our heritage in a European context: how does the display of our archaeological heritage affect our sense of self, our sense of place, and our community (African or European)? How does the exhibition of these objects inform our sense of citizenship and belonging (South African or global)?

Interior designers can create meaningful arrangements by placing found objects in close proximity to create ensembles; ensembles are further commonly used to structure museum exhibits. In both cases the selection, bringing together, and placement of objects are important creative processes. We consider this ensemble of disparate objects, in a foreign location, as a deliberately meaningful, and challenging, cultural act which can serve as analogy for the experience of migration. A transdisciplinary reflection, from the perspectives of interior- and exhibition design, is presented on the assembly of these objects. We will argue that ensembles like these are used to establish, support, and tell specific narratives. The trans-placed objects collected in this ensemble were appropriated from different human eras and language communities to construct a contemporary human identity. In this case cultural identity is attributed to a specific place (southern Africa), but it could be more apposite to attribute identity to a specific time (21st Century); is a temporal cultural identity not more appropriate in the age of mass-migration?

In this paper we argue that archaeological ensembles could be a meeting point for dialogue about identity. Further, it then becomes possible to construct identities of shared time (rather than of shared place) when the common human aspects of these objects are emphasized.

Keywords:ensemble, identity, migration, temporal
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W250 Interior Design
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Architecture & Design > School of Architecture & Design (Design)
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ID Code:30547
Deposited On:12 Mar 2018 11:20

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