Zeitz MOCAA opens in Cape Town, South Africa

The world’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora has opened in Cape Town. 

Focusing on 21st century creative practice, the Zeitz MOCAA held its opening weekend across 22-24 September 2017. 

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View of the atrium from the tunnel in the interior of the Zeitz MOCAA. Photo: Iwan Baan. Image courtesy Zeitz MOCAA.

Zeitz MOCAA, a new museum dedicated to cutting-edge contemporary practice and African 21st century art, has opened in Cape Town. Built in the city’s historic V&A Waterfront grain silo, this ambitious museum space hosts an amalgamation of galleries, curatorial projects and educational spaces, focusing on fostering creativity and contributing to Africa’s vast cultural heritage.

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Exterior of Zeitz MOCAA, designed by Heatherwick Studio. Photo: Iwan Baan. Image courtesy Zeitz MOCAA.

A New Museum for African Contemporary Art in Africa

Central to the museum is the Zeitz Collection, the contemporary art collection of German collector and businessman Jochen Zeitz, currently on long-term loan. Alongside the collection, Zeitz MOCAA will also host exhibitions from international artists.

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View of Zeitz MOCAA in Silo Square. Photo: Iwan Baan. Image courtesy Zeitz MOCAA.

An avid African art collector and enthusiast, Zeitz is also Co-Chairman of the museum, which takes his name. On the role of the museum within its African context, he comments:

We wanted the Museum to be as representative of Africa as possible. To celebrate its history, its culture, its diversity and its future with a focus on art from the 21st century. Most importantly, this is an institution for all of Africa!

A pioneer in the African art world, German-born Zeitz is also a successful businessman, appointed CEO of Puma at the age of thirty – incidentally where his relationship with Africa developed, with Puma being one of the first major sports brands to sponsor African football players.

Jochen Zeitz

Jochen Zeitz. Image Courtesy Zeitz MOCAA.

In an interview with Larry’s List, Zeitz discusses his motivation for building a museum in Africa and his “4Cs” guiding principle – the balance between conservation, communities, culture and commerce. Discussing the positive ramifications of the new museum to the creative community in Africa, he comments:

This museum has an effect on many people, first of all, on artists […]. The enthusiasm that comes with this museum is just wonderful to see. I think it is affecting artists, because so far I have only received positive feedback. At the end of the day, recognition for an artist, being able to exhibit, being able to show, and being able to make a living is important. If you want to be sustainable as an artist, you need infrastructure, otherwise it won’t happen. […] This museum is about collaboration and working together.

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Atrium view towards entrance. Photo: Iwan Baan. Image courtesy Zeitz MOCAA.

Built in the 1920s, the grain silo was once the tallest building in the southern hemisphere at 187 feet. Made up of 42 vertically placed concrete tubes, the building was originally used to store grain. After being unused for many years, the grain silo’s redevelopment was undertaken by London-based Heatherwick Studio in conjunction with local South African architects.

Split over nine floors and across 9,500 square metres, the galleries and cathedral-like atrium space at the museum’s centre are carved from the silos’ cellular tube structure. With 6,000 square metres of exhibition space within 100 galleries, alongside a rooftop sculpture garden and various reading rooms, the museum also boasts Centres for Photography, Curatorial Excellence, Moving Image, Performative Practice, and Art Education.

Centre for the Moving Image 1

Centre for the Moving Image. Image courtesy Zeitz MOCAA.

Of the challenge of creating a flexible, airy exhibition space within a “solid historic object” with cultural and symbolic significance – such as the grain silo –  Thomas Heatherwick comments:

The idea of turning a giant disused concrete grain silo made from 116 vertical tubes into a new kind of public space was weird and compelling from the beginning. We were excited by the opportunity to unlock this formerly dead structure and transform it into somewhere for people to see and enjoy the most incredible artworks from the continent of Africa. The technical challenge was to find a way to carve out spaces and galleries from the ten-storey high tubular honeycomb without completely destroying the authenticity of the original building. The result was a design and construction process that was as much about inventing new forms of surveying, structural support and sculpting, as it was about normal construction techniques.
William Kentridge - More Sweetly Play the Dance

William Kentridge, “More Sweetly Play the Dance”. Image courtesy Zeitz MOCAA.

Opening exhibitions at Zeitz MOCAA

Key artists within the collection include Chris Ofili, Yinka Shonibare, Frances Goodman, Hank Willis Thomas, William Kentridge, Mary Sibande and Liza Lou, many of whom are part of the mysterious key opening exhibition “All Things Being Equal”, which has little information shared about it online. Designed to surprise new visitors, the website states:

Numerous questions have been posed around our opening exhibition, the most evocative of these being, “How will I be represented in the museum?” See for yourself. All things being equal…

Liza Lou - The Waves

Liza Lou, “The Waves”. Image courtesy Zeitz MOCAA.

The museum has opened with a dynamic and far-reaching selection of exhibitions across its multiple sites and centres, with no less than 12 different presentations on show, alongside daily events and tours.

One of the current exhibitions includes Yinka Shonibare’s “Addio Del Passato: Dusthouse”. As part of this performance, the artist’s work occupies the Dusthouse, one of the key buildings at the museum. The work is a performance piece, spanning 24 hours, which concerns itself with Lord Nelson’s rejected love. Opera is played throughout the building continuously, with four floors of stained glass windows illuminated from the interior. The exhibition runs until 28 May 2018. 

Mary Sibande - In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity

Mary Sibande, “In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity”. Image courtesy Zeitz MOCAA.

At the physical heart of the museum is the BMW Atrium, a space similar to Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in London, in that it provides the museum with the ability to commission and exhibit large-scale, monumental pieces, installations and sculptures never before displayed in a public museum in Africa. Currently on view is work by Nicholas Hlobo.

The Sculpture Garden. Image courtesy Zeitz MOCAA.

The Sculpture Garden. Image courtesy Zeitz MOCAA.

Other interesting spaces include the Centre for Performative Practice, a dedicated platform, which explores the role of performance art in culture today, and the Curatorial Lab, a multi-disciplinary space for “experimental curatorial practice and research which explores new curatorial methodologies; subversive curatorial approaches; non-prescriptive practices; and under-represented topics and issues”. Their first project investigates the representation of the LGBTQI+ community in Africa, promoting intercultural understanding and education through the arts through Zanele Muholi’s Faces & Phases series.

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Exterior at Dusk. Photo: Iwan Baan. Image courtesy Zeitz MOCAA.

Another inaugural exhibition is “Harvest”, which takes place in the Centre for Curatorial Excellence. The exhibition includes all the installations that artist Michele Mathison created for the “Dudziro” exhibition at the Zimbabwe Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013. As the museum’s website states,

Mathison’s work interrogates humanity’s dependence on land and traditions of crop cultivation; the value of labour; how symbols of labour become political tools; and the ways in which we embed spiritual significance in nature. 

Anna Jamieson


Related topics: South African artistsmuseum showsAfrican artistsinstallationnews

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