New appointment to deepen SU Museum’s work on social justice

Dr Geraldine Frieslar

Dr Geraldine Frieslaar was recently appointed as the first ever curator of Research, Dialogue and Social Justice at the Stellenbosch University (SU) Museum.

Her role will be at the intersection of academic and public scholarship where a key part of her work will focus on research and dialogue around social justice as it pertains to the museum’s collections in particular, but also its relationship to wider publics.

She will also manage the development and facilitation of academic seminars, conversations and the development of new collections and exhibitions on the themes of Ubuntu and social justice.

According to SU Museum director, Bongani Mgijima, the appointment of Dr Frieslaar will deepen the work of the museum and strengthen its leading role nationally and globally.

“This position is a first of its kind nationally and if not internationally, so by creating this position we hope to institutionalise our work on social justice and democratic citizenship. Dr Frieslaar is well qualified and has the required experience to take the museum to new heights. We hope to learn and journey together with her into the future,” says Mr Mgijima.

Frieslaar is an SU alumna, and obtained the degrees Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) in 2000 and Bachelor of Arts Honours (Political Science) in 2001. She also holds degrees from the University of the Western Cape: a Post-graduate Diploma (Museum and Heritage Studies) which she completed in 2007, a Masters in History completed cum laude in 2012 and a PhD in History, which she completed in 2016.

Frieslaar has over a decade of experience working in museums, archives and in civil society. She has worked at the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, Feike Natural Resource Management and has hold positions as Director of the South African History Archive in Johannesburg, Archivist at the Robben Island Museum and Researcher at the District Six Museum.

Dr Frieslaar says she is “honoured and excited” to have been appointed as the first ever curator of Research, Dialogue and Social Justice at the SU Museum, as much work remains around social justice issues which only have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“My appointment signals the museum’s vision to rethink and reimagine itself as a space of inclusivity, critical conversations and provocation which is significant at this moment in time. Through this role, I want to create more accessibility around existing collections and grow collections by acquiring past and contemporary material on struggles for social justice.

“I want to build capacity in communities to tell their own history through immersive public programmes and to facilitate dialogical interventions through exhibitions, seminars, and training programmes. I also want to contribute to teaching and research programmes within the university for the promotion of historical awareness,” says Dr Frieslaar.

She believes that higher education institutions like SU can play a pivotal role in shaping the intellectual terrain around dialogues on transformation and social justice through public scholarship by utilising the museum as a vehicle for the promotion of civic activism and educational outreach.

“Museums are uniquely placed as spaces of knowledge production, disruption, contestation, memory making and education to challenge and problematize silences, exclusions and historical and contemporary social injustices.

“Within this vein, I am going to focus on public programming through exhibitions, and dialogical interventions that engages with these issues in order to cultivate a deeper understanding of social justice and a recalibration of our approach to museums,” says Dr Frieslaar.