Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas, Director of the Afrikaans Language Museum and Monument in Paarl, has been invited to speak at an international workshop on language museums, held this week in Florence, Italy, where he presented a paper today, 9 February 2017.

The workshop is held under the auspices of the Lorenzo de’ Medici Italian International Institute’s Master of Arts program in Museum Studies and the Sapienza University of Rome’s department of European, American and Intercultural Studies. Individuals and institutions who have been involved in the creation and projection of language museums and exhibitions have been invited with the idea of creating an international cooperation that can benefit all projects. Other participants include directors of language museums in Canada, France, Norway, Austria, Lithuania, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom.

According to the organisers, professors Nadia Cannata en Maia Wellington Gahtan, monuments, landscapes and borders are symbolic containers of identity and landmarks of a nation’s culture, thus representing a key for the interpretation of a nation’s past: “But which nation and whose past? Monuments and cities are set confidently in a given space, and they carry a date usually established with certainty. There are however other, no less fundamental components of our cultural heritage, such as language and narratives which are harder to pin down. They often function as justification of a community’s existence or claim to independence, and they may be used to state exclusive rights over a territory at the expenses of others.”

In his paper, Jonas says that museums as cultural institutions and public representations such as monuments are perceived as public spaces of authority: “In the recent past the role and influence of these public spaces in the shaping of a past South African identity has come under scrutiny. University student campaigns such as #Rhodesmustfall marked the dawn of an era whereby institutions such as the Afrikaanse Language Museum and Monument need to conduct a thorough investigation into the reasons for our existence and perceived mandates. These interventions could assist the institution in staying relevant and enable it to address the everchanging needs of our societies.”

Jonas further endeavors to contextualise the development of the institution against the socio-economic background of the period, illustrate how the development strategies conformed to the Afrikaner nationalist agenda and how the institution through its activities engineered a white identity based on common past. He also explores how community inclusive/exclusive participation was sought, display strategies, programming and communication strategies employed to portray and keep intact the dominant Afrikaner narrative, despite efforts to upgrade and add new interpretations.

Jonas believes specific strategies may advance and realise the ATM Council and the national Department of Arts and Culture’s strategic commitments to manage an institution that provide inclusive services and experiences to clients.

“These strategies could assist the institution to stay relevant, deal with baggage and deconstruction of the past and foster a love and appreciation for the inclusive history of Afrikaans amongst its diverse users in a multi-cultural environment,” says Jonas.

According to the organisers, a major purpose of the workshop is a prospective museum of European voices which may take the form of an itinerant museum, web portal and/or a ‘museo diffuso’ (network-museum). The goals of this project are to disseminate research and knowledge, to encourage active public participation around cultural identities, linguistic heritage and literary cultures and therefore to become active proprietors of this shared heritage, and to create innovative devices to store and exhibit the wealth of academic material, as well as data contributed by the public.

For more information about the language museum workshop, visit www.ldminstitute.com/en/landing/museums-of-language/, and for more information about the Afrikaans Language Museum and Monument, visit www.taalmuseum.co.za.