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Encore: Dr Noel Solani

Dr Noel Solani director DITSONG National Museum Cultural History

Dr Noel Solani is the director of the DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History and its sites. ‘In the past, I worked for the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha as a senior manager responsible for the core business of the museum. I had a deep desire to focus on research and subsequently went to work in Pietermaritzburg as a senior researcher at the Mzala Nxumalo Centre for the Study of South African Society. In all these places, we significantly contributed in the making of exhibitions, in research productivity and publication,’ says Dr Solani.

Name three artworks that you love and why.
This is a difficult question for me to answer. However, in the visual arts, there is a painting by Ronald Harrison on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. The painting was made in the 1960s. The image of Christ in the painting is that of Chief Albert Luthuli, who at the time was president of the banned African National Congress of South Africa. For this painting, Harrison was detained because the National Party government regarded what he did as blasphemy. Michail Rassool informs me that the artist was from Salt River in Cape Town, and the painting was originally intended for the St Luke’s Anglican Church, Salt River. According to Rassool, the original painting currently hangs in St George’s Cathedral Church in the Cape Town City Centre.
     In literature, I continue to be fascinated by the works of A C Jordan, especially his classical book Ingqumbo yeMinyanya, briefly translating as The Wrath of the Ancestors. The book is about the struggle of Africans transiting from traditional societies to modernity. Each time I read the book, it continues to amaze me that we continue to struggle and live in two worlds, that of tradition and modernity, even at a time when others argue that we are now in the post-modern world.
     Recently, I have been reading the poetry of Moferefere Andile Lekorotsoana, Shapes, Shades and Faces. His poetry speaks to our times and is embedded in the experience of the oppressed, while at the same time celebratory. 

Name one artist you would love to meet.
I would have loved to meet with Malangatana Ngwenya, the late Mozambican visual artist who passed away on 5 January 2011. I was first exposed to his work at the main library of the University of the Western Cape. I fell in love with his style of faces, colours and shapes. His paintings are very colourful, a montage of happiness and fear at the same time. Unfortunately, I will never have the opportunity to meet him.

What are you reading at the moment?
Two weeks ago, Professor Cory Kratz, who was married to the late Professor Ivan Karp, posted three books to me by Ivan Karp. She discovered multiple copies when she was sorting their library at their home in Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America. I was one of the fortunate inheritors of his classical work. I am now reading one of those books on social theory. The book is titled African Systems of Thought, co-authored with Charles Bird. If I could, I would prescribe the book for every African student, especially in this era where we speak of decolonisation of the curriculum. 

What is in your car’s CD player?
Pata Pata by Miriam Makeba and some reggae CDs. 

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I think I value all the experiences I went through; they have made me who I am. No, I would not change anything. But there are a number of things I would have done differently if given the chance, like buying a suit for my late father with my first paycheque.

Name one thing you think would improve the arts and culture industry in South Africa.
Financially educating artists at the point when they start their careers.

What is your most treasured possession?
My great grandfather’s only image that he ever allowed to be taken.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
When one has given up on life.

What is it that makes you happy?
When there is peace all around you.

Describe a defining moment in your life.
Does having an inheritor count?

What projects will you be busy with during 2019 and into 2020? 
Focus on building exhibitions.

Name one goal you would like to achieve in the next twelve months.
Given all probabilities are accounted for and on my side, transform some of the exhibitions at the DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History, and through them create debate about ‘what do we view as our culture in South Africa?’ 

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