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Google Partners With Phansi Museum To Create A Digital Archive Of South Africa’s Heritage

On the eve of Heritage Day 2022,  Google Arts & Culture hosted an event at the Phansi museum in Durban to announce a new partnership titled ‘I Am Because You Are: A Celebration of South African Creativity’. The online collaboration is with the Phansi Museum and 8 other institutions across South Africa. 

The project aims to celebrate the people of South Africa through traditional, ancient, and contemporary art, bringing online, for the first time, one of Africa’s largest traditional art collections, housed at the Phansi museum.

10and5 attended the event and we found it remarkable that the museum is also a functional cultural hub that offers a space for creatives in Durban to congregate, collaborate, and exchange skills.  

Amit Sood, Director of Google Arts & Culture is thrilled by the latest partnership with a South African organisation. “Thanks to our digitisation effort with the Phansi Museum, this hub will help us bring cultural treasures, and inspiring stories about art, and crafts to the people of South Africa and in the process, assist in the further development of the arts landscape in the country,” he said. 

“So far this is our largest collection in South Africa, bringing online more than 5000 artefacts for the first time. I hope art lovers, not only in South Africa but also around the world will join the celebration to discover and explore the rich traditions and cultural wealth of this nation using our newly created platform,” he added. 

Phansi museum founder and Director, Paul Mikula, has for many years traveled the world collecting some of the artefacts that form part of the collection. He is happy to finally see all the hard work bearing results. “It has been a long journey to get this project to this point, three of those years have been working with Google and we are proud to be partners. We hope this will allow our work to be seen and enjoyed by Africans in the diaspora but also by the world at large,” he said. 

We also spoke to Paul who further shared the importance of African people taking pride in their own culture and identity because there is so much symbolism and meaning in it and the artworks, complicated patterns, beadwork, and moulding clay reflect that. 

Dr. Alistair Mokoena, Country Director for Google South Africa celebrated the fact that the public can now access, explore and discover the stories behind the museum through immersive tours and curated online exhibits, especially as South Africans mark Heritage Day this weekend. 

“Our goal has always been to bring the world’s culture online for everyone – allowing individuals to experience it in new ways. We are thrilled to be able to bring over 5000 high-resolution images, five museum views, and 10 online exhibits digitally, to the public through Phansi museum’s bespoke page on the Google Arts & Culture website.”

To answer the question of the digital access gap, Dr. Mokoena shared that Google is addressing this by committing to invest a billion dollars in the African continent over the next five years to accelerate Africa’s digital transformation. “A big part of that is laying down the sub-c cable that brings affordable, faster internet access from Europe into Africa. This will reduce wholesale prices of the internet by 25%, create 180 000 indirect jobs and it has 20% more capacity than the previous cable which will reduce latency and increase reliability. We hope to get more Africans online.”

The project includes new stories from the University of Pretoria, which celebrate South African women, 8 new virtual tours from South African Tourism and Johannesburg Art Gallery, and expertly curated stories from some of South Africa’s most important museums and institutions and platforms including the Origins Centre and Social Fabric.

“We are excited to see how this latest project is received. South Africa has a deep and varied history. It remains our main purpose, like with other cultures around the world, to continue preserving these treasures, making them accessible to anyone, anywhere,” concludes Mokoena.

We spoke to some attendees as well, in particular Thobeka Dhlomo and Masshad Makhanya who spoke highly of project coordinator Similo Gobingca and director Paul Mikula. Dhlomo added, “Some projects may be ahead of people’s time and understanding. This is why we archive and digitise because some people catch up years later so that the information can be disseminated regardless, I think this is one such incredible project.”