'Bushman' exhibit closed

2001-04-03 18:15

Cape Town รป The closing of the controversial "Bushman" diorama exhibited at the South African Museum in Cape Town, symbolised the museum's commitment to change, a spokesperson said on Tuesday.

The exhibition was shut down after 42 years following protests from the Khoisan community and others who said the diorama represented a time when Bushmen were treated like specimens in a natural history museum.

A modeller at the South African Museum, James Drury, originally cast the Bushman figures in 1912 in Prieska in the Northern Cape. His mission was to cast Bushmen for scientific study and his intention was to put them on display as examples of a pure racial type.

The diorama itself, and the idealised natural landscape that surrounded the figures, was constructed in 1959 and opened to the public in 1960.

Chief executive officer of Iziko Museums, Jack Lohman said the shut down was part of the transformation of museums in order to make the institutions more democratic.

'Bushmen treated like natural history specimens'

"The first argument centred on the fact that the Bushmen were being treated like natural history specimens... to these were added arguments of racial stereotyping and misrepresentation," he said.

Lohman said the museum was endorsing the resolution from the National Khoisan Consultative Conference held in Oudtshoorn at the weekend, which declared that a consultative process involving the Khoisan community would be established and implemented.

He said working with communities who were misrepresented or excluded from the displays might be painful, but the product aimed to benefit the affected parties.

Until then the diorama would be preserved untouched and archived, he said.

A local newspaper reported that the closure has sparked some division between the San and Khoisan communities.

The Cape Times reported that Khoisan leaders who attended the Oudtshoorn conference were quoted as supporting the closure of the diorama, which they said was vulgar because it "did not depict indigenous people as human".

However, a group of southern African Bushmen who gathered in Windhoek for a meeting of the San Cultural Heritage Committee, last week condemned the closure. - Sapa