Francis Gerard


Collaborator, originator, visionary
Totem: totem pole

Francis is the totem pole and inspired the unusual collaboration that is Totem Media. His ability to identify people of talent and then network them in ways that get the best out of them is the art of the totem pole. He keeps saying that it is all a product of his own need for stimulating diversity, but his own life has diversity enough for many lifetimes of adventures. As a filmmaker for the BBC he has seen the world, met its leaders, journeyed into the heart of some of its greatest challenges and told some of its most enlightening stories. Like the artefact he has chosen he has a passion for cultural heritage, for discovering and telling its hidden stories. His award-winning documentaries and world-class museums attest to this. Like all great innovators he makes unusual connections between things. Francis is a visionary and dreamer. His totem rises out of the landscape, reaching for the sky, calling us together with the potency of ritual, the seduction of great art, the promise of revealing deep mysteries in the stories behind the symbols and the welcoming warmth of the heart of the tribe.

Nabeel Essa


Architect, style guru, creator
Totem: pen

As Totem’s architect and style guru Nabeel is the creator and interpreter of spaces. He is also the intermediary between idea and design; visual and material; story and build. In Nabeel’s hand the pen becomes a force, a wand; it scribbles, doodles, sketches and configures. Out of the myriad of pen strokes a picture emerges: it is design, it is order from chaos, it anticipates and foretells the creation or transformation that is to follow. Nabeel writes and draws into being new structures and altered spaces, applying, depending on what is required, a firm hand or a light touch. Just as ink flows on to a page, Nabeel’s imagination flows freely – but just as the writer controls the pen, Nabeel guides his creative impulses into workable solutions. The discipline needed to execute complex architectural formulations combines with Nabeel’s aesthetic sensibility and his innate sense of style, and the result is a product that is beautiful and practical. He has an innate understanding of space, light, and texture, and his sensitivity to history and context has made him a sought-after heritage architect. Aesthete and intellectual, Nabeel indeed epitomizes the old Horatian adage: ‘The pen is the tongue of the mind.’

Bea Roberts


Researcher, scribe, activist
Totem: Scrabble tile B

The scrabble tile B is valued at 3, the universal number for creativity. Tough to beat at word games, Bea wields vocabulary and grammar with the aesthetic skill of an artist and the passion of a freedom fighter. She is a wordsmith and makes textbooks, screenplays, websites and exhibitions come alive. Like the game they have wide appeal. Bea has a knack for popularising difficult, critical views of history. Her game board always gives marginalised voices a space in which to speak and there are always a few extra blank tiles that remind other Totem team members that they have the potential to be almost anything. If her brain is a thesaurus, her heart is map – a map to the future. Bea is an activist with roots in the struggle and a vision of the future that is driven by social justice and creative opportunity for everyone. She also has an uncanny editor’s intuition and can see errors just by glancing at the board or the page. Just when you think your words have said all they can she adds more value, tile after tile. With Bea you will always get a triple word score.

Andre Croucamp


Educator, wisdom keeper, sage, Renaissance man
Totem: virus

It took a journey down the Amazon with shamans for André to find his totem, but his non-conscious was undoubtedly primed by working with HIV, HPV and other viruses at the South African Institute for Medical Research just prior to this journey. Like a shaman, a virus exists in the liminal space between life and death. André is intrigued by liminal spaces and the possibilities they hold. He is always willing to experiment with new ideas and push the limits of the probable and possible; he is not held back by rules, conventions or social expectations. For André, good questions are far more important than clever answers, and scientific method is key to discovery and progress. André is a true polymath and he is Totem’s fount of knowledge, profound and quirky. For André, knowledge and information transfer is a calling, not a job. His enthusiasm for sharing his intellectual resources and energy is abundant and, yes, infectious. Just as viruses have played a key role in the evolution of diverse life forms, André plays a key role in evolving an idea from its origins into a substantive, imaginative and sustainable Totem project. Next thing he’ll be going viral – watch this space.


Adriénne van den Heever


Curator, aesthete, crafter
Totem: origami bird

In mind and matter Adriénne presents as quick as a bird and as exact as an origami maestro. “Birds know themselves not to be at the center of anything, but at the margins of everything. The end of the map. We only live where someone's horizon sweeps someone else's. We are only noticed on the edge of things; but on the edge of things, we notice much.” (Gregory Maguire, Out of Oz). Folding a square of paper into an object of delicate beauty – the origami bird – requires a sharp eye and a precise hand, and these are some of the skills Adriénne brings to the Totem team. An artist and arts manager, she is intimately involved in the process of transforming a bare, or barely adequate, exhibition space into a place of wonder and delight. A sheet of paper presents endless possibilities for manipulation and transformation, but ultimately a perfect origami bird requires a measure of artistic wizardry. This is Adriénne’s forte: with her eclectic mix of skills and interests, her experience in the museums and heritage sector, and her artistic and aesthetic sensibilities, she brings a critical edge to Totem’s exhibition design and development processes.




Gavin Olivier


Technology oracle, mediator, activator
Totem: audio jack

Gavin’s totem is an audio jack. He is wired for sound, for light, and for the electrostatic tingle of a touch screen. Gavin is a techie, an innovator, a trendsetter and probably the best interactive audio-visual technology developer in South Africa. He was bitten by the gadget bug at a young age and has gone on to be a significant player in that sector, winning awards for his use of technology in creating interactive exhibitions. He is at the cutting edge of his profession; not only in terms of developing the technology itself but also in the intention behind the ways he employs it to communicate knowledge. His knack for getting technology to connect with content, and then finding the most compatible fit between the technology and the available space, makes him an innovator and an artist. He wields his skill to create interactive exhibitions that inspire, empower and connect the minds of visitors with the knowledge held in some of South Africa’s greatest museums and sites of memory. His skill has recently jacked him into a series of international successes. Gavin’s passion is not only to plug people into humanity's rich history and heritage, but also to spark their interest in the infinite possibilities this universe holds. .’

Guy Spiller


Filmmaker, storyteller, observer
Totem: Secretary bird

Guy likens himself to a Secretary bird because it is the Spiller family’s crest and because it has long legs and a rather messy hairstyle like his. But the similarities between him and this iconic bird are more significant. His camera lens is a raptor’s eye that keenly observes the world. Surrounded by a passionate fiery orange his eyes are those of a multi award-winning documentary filmmaker that knows how to capture the story. He knows how to scan the landscape and with a sense of justice he identifies and quickly disposes of snakes, real and metaphorical. He combines a journalistic attention to the facts with the storytelling skill of a great teacher who can present complex ideas simply without being simplistic. He in fact worked as a teacher before making a mark in the advertising industry. Determined to make a difference, he began making documentaries and groundbreaking educational media in the areas of science, art and heritage. His work is often the crowning glory of Totem’s museum installations. His is a unique talent – the secretary bird being the only species in its taxonomical family. Rare indeed. .

Samantha Horowitz


Boss lady, maestro of balance, organiser
Totem: choreographer

As the manager and coordinator of an eclectic Totem troupe her dancer’s attributes – discipline and control, fluidity and grace – come in handy. As choreographer her production management skills from years in the film and television industry stand out: she sets schedules and parameters with a certain flair, and can bring an unruly troupe to order when needed. As the great dance critic Edwin Denby said: “There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good.” Sam harnesses that good because she is well aware that success depends not only on hard work and practice, but on each member of the team feeling appreciated and nurtured. However, it is as choreographer that she truly shines: the movements, steps and rhythms of every Totem project are carefully conceptualised and finely tuned. Sam’s creative sensibilities are in perfect harmony with her organisational skills; the result is a company made up of individuals who have the imagination and freedom to develop truly innovative products, while meeting deadlines and budgets – and, most importantly, keeping clients happy.

Renay Kneale


Designer, magician, master of the visual metaphor
Totem: lock & key

Renay’s totem is a lock and key because she so ably opens up endless possibility, unlocking creativity in the minds of the Totem team. She is a multi-talented graphic designer whose breakthrough ideas are key to Totem’s brand, website designs, publications and exhibitions. This is design that releases the senses to admit the entry of new and challenging information. This is design that opens doors to a dynamic experience of space where you discover that aesthetic is the secret password that accesses knowledge. Come on in. There is a surprise waiting for you inside. You are invited to interpret the pattern, and to let it intrigue, inform and inspire you. Renay is waiting on the threshold to welcome you to the experience. She is also literally at the threshold of new developments in media and technology, keeping us in touch with international trends, finding the keys to the future of design. Her growing understanding of perception is profound and her painstaking attention to detail is exquisite as she uses her colour palette and sensual understanding of shape and texture to pick the locks to your heart and mind.

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