ICOM UK member Luigi Galimberti interviews Butholezwe Kgosi Nyathi about the Amagugu International Heritage Centre, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Butholezwe Kgosi Nyathi is Programs Manager of the Amagugu International Heritage Centre, and has over 8 years of experience in the creative arts sector. He was a 2016 Mandela Washington Fellow, 2017 International Society for the Performing Arts Fellow and 2018 Tate Intensive Fellow.
Luigi Galimberti is Collection Care Research Manager at Tate, London, and a Board Member (Non-Executive Director) of Res Artis, the world’s largest membership-based network of artist residencies.
Luigi: What is the Amagugu International Heritage Centre (AIHC)?
Butholezwe: The AIHC provides a venue and organises a variety of cultural and educational programmes for the public to learn and appreciate different facets of indigenous heritage, history and cultural context. AIHC researches on, documents and promotes tangible and intangible indigenous cultural heritage to develop and enrich the consciousness of the people about their cultural heritage and foster respect for cultural identities. AIHC houses a museum with rotational exhibitions that showcase pictures and artefacts from pre-colonial Zimbabwe. The Centre also provides participatory cultural activities such as traditional games, dance and music, basket weaving, pottery making and mountain climbing. AIHC was accredited by UNESCO as an NGO advisor in 2018.
Luigi: Whose stories are you preserving and whom are you telling them to?
Butholezwe: AIHC researches, documents and promotes selected pre-colonial tangible and intangible cultural heritage elements of the Ndebele ethnic group in Zimbabwe. This distinction is a means of tracing the evolution of cultural practices, traditions and beliefs of the Ndebele minority group in Zimbabwe. The primary target audience for the exhibitions and activities are institutions of learning – primary, secondary and tertiary. Program design and implementation is conceptualised with the desire to support informal heritage education. The AIHC targets the general public and local and international tourists as secondary audiences.
Luigi: Is there a difference in function, meaning and (non-monetary) value between tangible and intangible heritage in the Ndebele culture? How do you deal with this in your museum?
Butholezwe: The AIHC considers intangible heritage as more significant in that it informs and influences tangible cultural expressions. While we endeavour to display physical artefacts and art works from a pre-colonial Ndebele past, a significant component of the learning experience is framed around providing spiritual and perceptive explanations of physical objects, cultural practices and traditions. The Ndebele, like many other African communities, relied (and still do) more on oral intergenerational transmission of knowledge, a phenomenon evident in the comparatively limited number of monuments in Africa compared to the western world. Africans are more spiritual (intangible) and the Ndebele are no exception.
Luigi: What future would you like to see for the Amagugu International Heritage Centre and the communities around it?
Butholezwe: A vibrant cultural facility that is the preferred congregational space for enhanced understanding of Ndebele history, culture and heritage. The Centre seeks to engender pride in local culture among local communities and create avenues for pursuit of livelihood options in the arts, culture and heritage sectors.
Luigi: How does your centre involve new generations of artists in its activities?
Butholezwe: At AICH, in 2019 we will diversify to digital documentation and promotion of cultural heritage, a significant departure from the current physical forms of documentation, and expand the range of our cultural products and services to the digital space. AIHC seeks to engage video makers, graphic artists and animators to transmit Ndebele cultural heritage and facilitate online distribution for an expanded international audience.
Luigi: What is your experience of taking part in exchange and fellowship programmes for museum professionals?
Butholezwe: The greatest benefit from an exchange program is the opportunity to build relations with fellow artists and cultural managers. It is always fascinating to share experiences from our diverse geographic contexts, to realise the strong asymmetries and attendant divergencies. Insight into contemporary thoughts and global trends is an asset to a cultural manager such as myself. But like any other worthwhile initiative with inherent structural deficiencies, a fellowship program can be a ball of energy and high stakes motivation that however does not extricate one from their everyday lived reality. The political and economic fundamentals in Zimbabwe, a country on the precipice, tend to stifle creativity.
Butholezwe Kgosi Nyathi, Programs Manager, Amagugu International Heritage Centre, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe