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Negotiating binaries in curatorial practice: modality, temporality, and materiality in Cape Town's community-led urban history museums

Kappler, Stefanie and McKane, Antoinette (2021) 'Negotiating binaries in curatorial practice: modality, temporality, and materiality in Cape Town's community-led urban history museums.', in Contested Urban Spaces. Monuments, Traces, and Decentered Memories. . Palgrave Macmillan Memory Studies.


This chapter investigates the ways in which curatorial interventions interpret and shape urban space as it is marked by legacies of colonial violence and historical injustice. Focusing on Cape Town, South Africa, we suggest that the curatorial process in community-led urban museums is shaped by three central considerations. First, curators move within a particular modality of remembering, balancing processes of forgetting and remembering selective aspects of history. Second, their choices invoke questions of temporality in terms of how they mutually configure the past and the present. Third, we argue that museum practice is a matter of materiality, displaying the material presence of some aspects of history, while curating the absence of others. To develop this theoretical reasoning, we rely on an analysis of two museums, specifically. These include the District Six Museum, which was established to commemorate the eviction campaigns of the apartheid government from a once multicultural district of Cape Town, and the Lwandle Migrant Labour Museum, dedicated to commemorating the hardships faced by migrant workers during colonial and apartheid times throughout South Africa. Both museums can be seen as community-based and activist in orientation, raising questions of historical accountability and repair from their positions of marginalisation. At the same time as they narrate the memories of the historical grievances of their respective host communities, both museums play an important role in curating the memoryscape of Cape Town to a diverse audience, locally, nationally and globally.

Item Type:Book chapter
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Date accepted:24 September 2021
Date deposited:27 September 2021
Date of first online publication:2021
Date first made open access:No date available

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