"One of the key issues for me is the transformation of our African (but also global) collections to be more inclusive of race and gender"

17 March 2020

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South African fine artist, curator and director of the William Humphreys Art Gallery, Ernestine White-Mifetu, was recently appointed as a CIMAM Board Member. Creative Feel spoke to White-Mifetu about her important new role.

Please tell us a bit more about CIMAM, its role, and the importance of organisations such as this?

CIMAM serves an important role in bringing together individuals who are passionate about learning, improving and changing the museum sector in order to ensure the transformation of collections and the exchange of knowledge related to the preservation and engagement with intangible and tangible heritage.

What led you to apply to be a CIMAM Board Member and what insight do you think you bring as a South African?

Being selected to be part of the CIMAM Board was an important opportunity to include the challenges and experiences of museums within the African continent on an international platform such as this one. Within South Africa alone, three new museums have been erected in the last five years and this influx and interest in museums pose important questions about international museum best-practice standards in order to preserve the objects that are in our custodianship for generations to come. As such, by being in CIMAM, I am able to transfer the knowledge obtained through the networks and interactions with other global practitioners directly to the sector in South Africa and to regions within the continent that I am requested to engage with through my work as a curator and director of a national museum.

Your portfolio as a CIMAM Board Member consists of the CIMAM Outstanding Museum Practice Award. Could you tell us a bit more about this award? Why are awards such as this important for the growth of the industry?

The CIMAM Outstanding Museum Practice Award identifies institutions globally that are working hard to ensure that the principles of museum best practice are adhered to and serve as positive examples of what is possible with the commitment of staff and good governance. In addition to this, understanding the nuances of best practice is paramount to ensuring the safety, security and relevance of an institution whose responsibility is to preserve a nation’s cultural heritage irrespective of whether it is tangible or intangible.
This award serves as an important barometer to measure the existing standards of museums and to provide other institutions with the feedback, guidance and inspiration to improve on what should be achieved when adequate human and financial resources are available.

You are also part of the working group Engaging with ICOM (International Council of Museums), what does this entail and what key issues are of particular importance to you personally?

Being on the working group Engaging with ICOM has the responsibility of unpacking, disseminating key issues related to the challenges, successes codes and ethics of the sector and to provide the global community of museum practitioners with the necessary information to improve the institutions that they work in, with or provide support to.
One of the key issues for me is the transformation of our African (but also global) collections to be more inclusive of race and gender. Within South African collections, the challenge still exists in which collections mainly contain the works of white male artists. The works of female artists and artists of colour continue to remain minimal. As such, every effort is being made in my current position as director of the William Humphreys Art Gallery to correct these disparities by implementing a focused acquisitions strategy aimed at creating a more inclusive collection that is reflective of the diversity of the nation.