Christopher Till: The man leading the Apartheid Museum
In 1948, the Apartheid regime was instituted in South Africa. And for more than 40 years, blacks and whites lived segregated, whereas, in other words, Negroes had virtually no rights as they who were classified as “non-whites”. Nowadays, 22 years after the end of Apartheid, the Apartheid Museum, funded and run by Christopher Till, tells this history. “The museum shows the rise and fall of Apartheid. There is a chronological narration telling what took place, how it happened, and for what reasons”, states Christopher.
The history of museology can be confused with the museum itself. Christopher was born four years after the beginning of the regime and he lived most of his life during that period. He graduated in Fine Arts from Rhodes University, in Grahamstown, South Africa and he began working in the field of museums as curator of the Zimbabwe National Gallery, until when South Rhodesia became part of South Africa in 1983, when Christopher became the director of the Art Gallery in Johannesburg. In 1991, he became the Cultural director of the city. “In 2001, he was invited to help in creating a new museum, but he did not know the theme being addressed”, he remembers. “So, I suggested that we needed to create a museum telling the history of our Country”. Thus, the Apartheid Museum was also founded in Johannesburg.
The visitors who arrived there were immediately impressed by the arrival of a division between the two entities: one focused on “white” people and the other on “non-white” people. According to Christopher, that separation helps visitors to notice, in just a few minutes, what the reality was like during that Apartheid period, when people could not coexist peacefully. “Whites and Negros were completely separated in all aspects. We could not live together”, he explains.
The museum, besides telling the history of the segregationist regime, displays a permanent exhibition portraying the trajectory of the life of the former South African president Nelson Mandela. Christopher Till had already met the political leader on other occasions. But he especially remembers the day when Mandela visited the exhibition. Even though, he was debilitated due to his age, the political leader was fascinated by what he saw. “We provided him a golf cart for taking him around the exhibition”, he tells. I said this: “Mr. President, this is your life”, he remembers.
According to the museologist, there are some currents of thought nowadays confirming that the segregationist regime did not end in 1994. There are people who believe that Mandela did not return power to Negros, but only allowed them to share it with whites. “They are saying that history shows that it did not change much during their lives and that wealth is still mainly concentrated in the hands of white people”, he comments. However, Christopher believes that Mandela left a reconciliation legacy for building that nation.
About the museums, Christopher Till believes that they are extremely important tools for the development of young people and they need to abide with new generations. “I think the museums are more immersive when they understand who the audience is and how to express this to them”, he defends. Besides the Apartheid Museum, Christopher is working on the creation of a new museum in the location where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. Besides that, the founder-director of the new Javett Center Art Museum, which is being built at the Pretoria University and it, should be inaugurated in 2018.
Nelson Mandela, or popularly known as Madiba, was a South African political leader who fought against the Apartheid regime. As a consequence of his confrontation, he was incarcerated for 27 years and when he was released as he was a candidate for the presidency of the South African Republic. He was in office as President of the country from 1994 to 1999. He won the Nobel Peace prize in 1993. He passed away in 2013, as he was suffering from pulmonary complications. He became a world-wide icon for his struggles fighting for peace.
The Apartheid Museum website is www.apartheidmuseum.org