'Life has a way of breaking through.'
I spend my days working at the Iziko South African Museum. That it is a natural history museum should give away that I'm surrounded by a fair amount of history. Yet, sometimes, history still finds a way to surprise me.
My role at the museum is part photographer, part digitisation officer. See, I was hired to oversee and implement one of the biggest digitisation projects attempted by a South African museum. This is to digitise their entire collection of specimens, which includes literally hundreds of thousands of insects, birds, fossils and large stuffed mammals.
Given this context (that I am surrounded by preserved animals and sometimes hardly see other people) one could be excused for thinking that one wouldn't be surrounded by apartheid history. Colour me surprised then, when one day I was photographing a beautifully named Rufous-Cheeked Nightjar specimen and I noticed that the specimen tag was actually a reused native labour card. Given that I work alone for long periods of time this discovery allowed me venture off on a long, winding internal monologue about the irrepressible nature of history.
Even in a museum that is dedicated to the preservation of our countries natural history it is impossible to escape our country's wretched past. This should not be surprising as the entire edifice was built on and by this history. While this obviously affected the structural nature of our institutions, this was often in less obvious ways that allows one to forget or overlook their presence, sometimes it takes a small crack in the artifice to allow us to see it once again.
As Jeff Winger said in the wonderful Community, 'Life has a way of breaking through.' Substitute history for life and there you have it....