Digitsation of 3,500 Objects from Vukani Museum Completed

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.

Above: Vukani Museum in the town of Eshowe, KwaZulu-Natal is one of the museums in the Fort Nongqayi Museum Village and houses

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.

Above: Vivienne Garside, Director of the Vukani Museum and Zama Mbatha headed up the team who worked hard to pack out the entire collection move it through the digitisation centre and back into the museum. PHOTO: David Larsen

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.

Above: Left: The Africa Media Online team at work in the Digitisation Centre that was specially set up for the purpose. Right: Our AMO team, me, Francis Ntsikithi, Magloire Marango and Steven Ntsikithi. We were nearing the end. It had been lots of early mornings and late nights. PHOTO: David Larsen

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.

5 responses to “Digitsation of 3,500 Objects from Vukani Museum Completed

  1. Dear Dave and Vukanistaff and memebrs,
    Congratulations! I am sure Kjell Lofroth and Roma Bishop who worked tirelessly with the Vukani staff in the 1980’s when the musem was established ,would be so proud of you. I have some archival material from those early days you may be intetesed in, as well as phots etc.I am the daughter in law of Roma Bishop and she brought a very frail Kjell to meet me at iziko SANG a few years ago. Sadly both have passed on.
    It is to Vukani that I owe my interest in beadwork and the art of KZN, some of which is travelling around the world on our new 8th definitive series of beadwork on stamps.I assited Vukani market their products from 1981 until 1992, frommy base in Cape Town.
    This is really wonderful to know that all thet work and brilliant production of the co-opertive’s artists will be saved for our progeny. An example for our continet, showing again that South Africa is a leader in the field of conserving our patrimony!
    Carol Kaufmann Bishop Curator of African Art.

  2. Hi Carol,
    Thank you so much. We would certainly be interested in that archival material from the early days. I would love to come and see you about it on my next visit to Cape Town which is likely to be in August.

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