CF: How do you, in the curation of museum exhibitions, hope to contribute to making South Africa a safe space for women?
SM: I would like people to see the human element in all aspects of war and illustrate the massive changes in culture, belief, religion and economies that major wars bring. I would also like to show how war affects every section of a country and to show where everyone was and what they were doing when the war took place. It has always seemed to me that the landscape of the battle is greater than that of the communities, societies and homes from which soldiers are sent. Yet the impact on both is immense. I would like any citizen of our country to find a place in the museum where their culture and contribution armed warfare is illustrated. I would like to show the devastation war sows and have oral histories reminding today’s children of the horrors and pain of war. I would like to illustrate how important women have been in all areas of battle and how valuable they have been to victory. If done successfully, then the lives of women will be valued and appreciated and hopefully safer.
CF: What is your favourite object created/discovered by or about a woman in the museum?
SM: Let me start by telling you about the object I really don’t like. The Woman’s Cross for Motherhood issued during the Second World War, by the Nazis, to women and used as a propaganda tool to make women have many children. The Bronze Cross for four to five children. The Silver Cross for six to seven children and the Gold Cross for eight or more children. Imagine medals awarded to ensure women breed profusely to supply a massive German war machine with future soldiers.
My favourite exhibit is a piece of lace from a huge finished work of 38 panels commemorating the Battle of Britain (1940). It was produced by a firm called Dobson and Browne with two reasons given for its production. The owner of the factory had a son killed during the Battle of Britain and wanted something to be a memorial to him. The productions for the war efforts did not require the fine skills the lace makers were used to producing and to keep them in practice this huge panorama was produced.
The donor of the only piece in South Africa was Lionel Roche, a war veteran and a survivor of the disastrous sinking of the Oceanos off the coast of South Africa.