Defining Moment for Art in Africa: Zeitz MOCAA Opens

This past weekend, Safari365 was privileged to experience an early look at the museum and exhibitions during a press preview event. Straight upon entering, it was clear that the museum is set to captivate and thrill; providing a watershed moment for contemporary art in Africa and across the world.

This week, Cape Town is gearing up to host the opening of one of the most highly anticipated additions to Africa’s cultural scene. The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) will open its doors to the general public in an official event on Friday, 22 September.

The Zeitz MOCAA is a museum dedicated to nurturing contemporary art and artists from Africa and the African diaspora while providing representation and accessibility to all. The space is said to be Africa’s answer to London’s Tate Modern and New York’s MOMA.

“This Museum is a symbol, an icon, of the confidence we feel about being African, the confidence that we feel about our place in the world. And that’s what makes this so extraordinary,” said Chief Curator Mark Coetzee. The museum defines African art as art with production linked to the continent. Names of artists from South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Gabon and the United States of America, to name a few, adorn the walls of the numerous exhibition spaces.

“(Our goals is to) not only empower the voice or the narrative coming out of Africa but also to empower the audience and our youth so they can actually see their own cultural production in their own community and develop a sense of pride in the artists who are representing them,” Coetzee added.

The contemporary art museum is the first establishment of its kind on the African continent and as such needed a unique location.  

Zeitz MOCAA Iwan Baan

Zeitz MOCAA Photo: Iwan Baan

The historic grain silo complex – once used to store and export grain – in Cape Town’s V & A Waterfront provides a home for the Zeitz MOCAA. Creating the museum was an ambitious not-for-profit project undertaken by the V & A Waterfront and German business entrepreneur Jochen Zeitz.

“The old grain silo today has an entirely new purpose: custodian of some of the most important contemporary artwork on the African Continent,” the Zeitz MOCAA shared. The grain silo building was transformed and repurposed by UK-based Heatherwick Studio alongside local architects.

Zeitz MOCAA Iwan Baan

Zeitz MOCAA Photo: Iwan Baan

From the very moment upon entering the Zeitz MOCAA, it’s clear that this establishment is a defining moment for art and culture in Africa. The Gaudi-esque atrium stretches 5 stories above, suggestive of a cathedral, and is made up of smooth curving arches which are remnants of the building’s grain silos. Grain was the inspiration for the breathtaking entrance space where a single kernel of corn provided the organic shape carved out of the existing silo tubes; a tribute to the building’s former function.

From guests first glimpse of Nicholas Hlobo’s dragon Iimpundulu Zonke Ziyandilenda which dominates the atrium, every floor has something to wow, enthrall and encourage visitors to think and consider; bold colours, subdued portraits, gestural filmmaking and striking sculpture.

Zeitz MOCAA Athi-Patra Ruga

Proposed Model for Tseko Simon Nkoli Memorial - Athi-Patra Ruga

Zeitz MOCAA Mary Sibande

In the Midst of Chaos there is Opportunity - Mary Sibande

The creators and collaborators hope that the Zeitz MOCAA will be a watershed moment for contemporary African art drawing in local and international visitors.

“From preserving the historic architectural and industrial legacy of what was once the tallest building in South Africa, to developing a sustainable not-for-profit public cultural institution that collects, preserves, researches, and exhibits cutting edge contemporary art from Africa and its Diaspora, Zeitz MOCAA is intended to be an important cultural landmark that contributes to a stronger, wider appreciation of the continent’s cultural heritage.”

The Zeitz MOCAA officially opens on 22 September with free entrance throughout South Africa’s Heritage Day Weekend.

Heather Cameron

Meet Safari365's Content Creator Heather Cameron.

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