South Africa. With MOCAA, Cape Town becomes a capital of contemporary art

New York has its MoMA, London its Tate Modern, Paris its Centre Pompidou. From now on, one will have to consider Cape Town and its Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA). Imagined by a German, designed by a British Architect and led by a South African, the institution was inaugurated on Friday, September 22nd.
It’s a concrete monster, 57 yards high. The imposing grain silo in Cape Town’s harbour dominated all of sub-Saharan Africa in its youth, but it ended up lost amidst glass buildings, luxury yachts and Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, the continent’s busiest shopping mall. Its transformation into a showcase for contemporary African art began four years ago. Seen from above, its 116 gigantic concrete tubes resemble the cells of a hive. Cereal to feed thousands of people used to be stored in them. From now on, art will take their place. On its flank: six floors of exhibition halls with a surface area of 9,500 square metres, plus two more floors for performances and cultural education.

Africa’s response to the New York MoMa or the London Tate Modern

A man with a ten-day beard, casually dressed, sits at an ordinary table on the ground floor. He gave his name to this spectacular museum, and he is a German. Jochen Zeitz, 54, has served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the sportswear manufacturer Puma. He was the youngest president of a listed German company at the time. He succeeded in taking it out of the red figures, among other things by supporting 14 African national football teams. He is involved in various sustainable projects, environmental protection, social and cultural development. “The role of art collector doesn’t correspond to me at all”, he says. Cape Town has been presenting a dynamic art scene for several years now. However, the works were exhibited at biennials and museums in Europe and the United States. Only nine years ago, Jochen Zeitz and Mark Coetzee, the director of MOCAA, began to acquire thousands of works of modern African art, accumulating one of the continent’s largest collections. Most of the pieces ended up at the depot. “From the beginning, the goal was to find a central place for the collection”, Zeitz says.

“Political” works of art, in all their fibres

In a bright room, 197 red bricks attached to cables spaced 30 to 50 centimetres apart hang from the ceiling. This work by South African conceptual artist Kendell Geers recalls the struggle against apartheid when activists threw bricks at the regime’s representatives from highway bridges. Jochen Zeitz also shows us the works of the Tunisian Mouna Karray. This declared feminist travels to crisis areas and photographs herself in scenes of destruction, wrapped in a white sheet. Her work follows an African tendency of making art only with subjects personally experienced. The female-bodied artwork in cowhide leather by Nandipha Mntambo, 34 years old, will also be on display. According to this Swaziland artist, “This museum will give African art a huge boost.”

Preserving the soul of old silos

In this superb building, the works develop a new, authentic force. “We could have completely razed the building”, says Heatherwick, “but we wanted to keep the soul of the silos”. The new concrete added to stabilise the structure contrasts with the old tubes, which have been left as they are. These unrestored areas represent the scars left by time.
The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront provided the 33 million euros needed for the conversion, an unprecedented amount of money in Africa for a contemporary art project. The upper floors are occupied by a luxury hotel. The jewel of the MOCAA, however, remains the hall. Zeitz wants it to be a place where all sections of the population feel good. It’s not that simple. Admission is 180 rand, or 14 dollars, for adults which is less than most similar museums charge, but still higher than the daily income of many South Africans.
The MOCAA is, in any case, the current topic of conversation in South Africa’s growing middle class. Visited each year by more than 10 million tourists, Cape Town is one of Africa’s most important cultural destinations.
Source: Courrier International

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