I was up in the picturesque town of Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal last week doing the final hand over of hard drives which contained the digital files of the entire Vukani Museum collection. We have been working on this project on and off since March 2010.
The project came about when the museum director, Vivienne Garside approached me after a workshop I ran for the South African Museums Association in 2007 at the Msunduzi Museum in Pietermaritzburg. She was determined to get the entire Vukani Collection of 3,500 traditional Zulu baskets, pottery and other objects digitised before she retired from service in the museums sector. The Vukani Museum is one of the largest collections of traditional Zulu artifacts in the world.
Having created a plan together we wrote a funding proposal to South Africa’s National Lottery Distribution Fund and finally in 2009 the funding was awarded and we made plans to execute the project.
In the first quarter of 2010 we relocated to Eshowe and set up a workflow with Vivienne’s team bringing the objects through from the museum to the digitisation centre and cleaning them ahead of our team doing the photographing. We used a mid-gray eternity curve and a studio set up.
It took us four weeks of long days to complete the photographing of the objects, but it was really satisfying work. It provided its fair set of challenges with objects of all sizes from a 5 cm high basket to long and thin Shembe horns.
We shot each object three times, once with an accession number, once with a gray card and once on its own. We then trained a team of metadata capturers from the museum and set them to work capturing the metadata from their catalogue. We also purchased and set up a whole studio for them and trained Vivienne and her team in its operation so that as they add objects to their collection, they can keep building their digital collection.
Finally we set up the Vukani Museum Collection website running on our newly launched MEMAT 3.1 media management system to host the digital collection and give access to researchers and other users. We also have an ongoing partnership where the Africa Media Online image sales team handles all licensing queries for book publishers and broadcasters. This leaves Vivienne and her team to focus on preservation, research and education.
In some ways, for the team at Vukani Museum, the work has just begun as they continue the task of capturing the metadata for each item. One of the real benefits has been that they have had the opportunity to revisit the catalogue cards of the entire collection and correct many historic mistakes. There is only a small selection of images on the web site at the moment, but as the metadata is captured so too will pictures be loaded onto the site until all 3,500 are available for viewing.
It’s been a great privilege to work with the team at Vukani and as one of my team members, Magloire Marango said, he is just amazed at the dedication of the Vukani staff to preserve the heritage of the Zulu people.