Checking Out The UP Museum(s)

The International Council of Museums said this: “As institutions in the service of society, museums have enormous potential to facilitate social cohesion and engage in the debate on human rights and social equality.” Pretty deep, and very true.

Put another way, a visit to UP’s museum in the Old Arts Building will provide massive relief from social media, a stimulating visual education, as well as a warm and fuzzy context from which to appraise society.

Museums have that ability to make you feel proud to be alive and, Lord knows, right now South Africans need that shot in the arm! UP’s museums are no exception and, if anything, the staff have a very dynamic approach, and a tangible, positive ethos rubs off on you just being in the building. The sensation might be ill-defined, but it’s hard to feel sorry for your lot in life when you glimpse polished and preserved history behind glass, or flip through the open the pages of a book written and illustrated hundreds of years ago.

Human history, art and awesome snippets like the Mapungubwe Collection all nestle in the university museums’ chambers. Museums are one of the few things on earth that can shift our consciousness to the bigger picture. They are always snapshots of human endeavour, making us all one, feeling cohesive, imagining what aliens would make of our so human travails thus recorded.

Mapungubwe lives on

Did you know that Pretoria houses the most amazing collection of artifacts ever to be found in Southern Africa? The Mapungubwe collection of gold figurines and other items is a singular snapshot of a moment in Africa’s history when people took to creativity, sculptors set aside iron for precious metal, and a transient culture left pure gold artifacts to rival the trinkets of the pharaohs of Egypt. The gold gallery is currently closed for construction, but before year’s end it will be housed in a glorious new wing. Pending exhibits include the Dipeta Exhibit (Pedi for “bead”), showcasing the amazing beadwork traditions of South Africa. Both Mapungubwe and Dipeta will be back before your eyes later this year.

What you might also not know, is that the museum is not just for looking. Behind every exhibit lies intel, analysis, cataloging, a history and often a wealth of useful information. Museums are not just for show. In fact, what they do show is the tip of an iceberg, one built of hours and days and years of field excursions, analysis, preservation and continuing research. Something mighty handy for students, who often need that background information or perhaps want to investigate artifacts for a broader summary.

The UP Museum has around fifty two collections, plus interminable other stuff, with a number of the most notable on permanent display. UP has four unique key collections that are the university’s pride and joy. There is a large South African (and European) art collection, and an archaeological, sculptural and ceramic collection, all of which are the pride of curating staff. UP museum staff also provide “teaching and learning support,” in their own words, and no matter who you are, that’s a treasure trove of value for researchers who want to capitalise on a century or more of diligent collection and conservation.

A thumbnail for SA arts and culture

The UP museums include the collections in the Old Merensky building too. Indeed, once you start scratching to find out exactly what all of the UP museum venues store, preserve, research and document, you’ll find an unending catalogue of treasures from centuries past.

Museums might once have been the domain of socially awkward geeks who spent hours in silence, ferreting with obscure stuff, but now IT has absorbed those people. The modern museum – especially after seeing Nicolas Cage in Book of Secrets – is nowadays definitely totally cool! This is entirely appropriate as, notwithstanding some national museum buildings’ musty smells, where else can you find a carefully curated, deadly accurate, mixed-media collection of human history all presented for your viewing pleasure? When you put it like that, YouTube videos seem a little tired in comparison…

Check out the best of UP’s museum collections weekdays during university hours, from 8am – 4pm. The university’s stunning art collections are worth savouring on a long, rainy day too. Students know, but for everyone else, the feast begins at the corner of Lynnwood and Roper roads. Entrance is free, and a sense of pride, relief and satisfaction are are guaranteed!