After over a decade in the making, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art from Africa is opening its doors on September 22.
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art from Africa exterior, designed by Thomas Heatherwick (photo by Iwan Baan)
CAPE TOWN — Africa has always enjoyed a rocky relationship with the interweb of commercial and cultural interests we know as the art world. Take ‘tribal art,’ an egregious category used for far too long to refer to the pilfered artwork from colonial conquests that ended up in the West, or the fact that contemporary art from Africa is still dogged by that geographical designation. Slow and steady though, the terms of engagement appear to be changing.
On Friday, September 22 in Cape Town, South Africa, the first museum dedicated to contemporary art borne of the continent will open its doors to the public. Dubbed Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Art from Africa), the museum aims to ensure “that the people of Africa can see some of the best artistic production from their continent … [so] that the discourse around art in Africa can be led by Africa.”
Zeitz MOCAA represents an effort over a decade in the making. It began in 2003, when Jochen Zeitz, then CEO of Puma, hired the South African-born curator of the Rubell Family Collection in Miami, Mark Coetzee, to oversee his company’s creative platform. In 2008, Coetzee curated one of the longest touring exhibitions in history of African-American artists from the Rubell Collection named 30 Americans. Spurred by that success, Coetzee soon began helping Zeitz build his own collection of contemporary art from Africa and its diasporas. Over the next nine years the pair took up this mission with vigor, sometimes acquiring entire shows with a view toward starting a museum of international repute. In that time, they also went about securing another critical piece of the puzzle required to realize such a vision: a building.
The historic Grain Silo Complex had long since blurred into the fabric of Cape Town’s harbor. Originally constructed in 1921, the 42 concrete tubes comprising the complex once housed massive amounts of maize awaiting distribution across the seas or inland where the grain forms a local staple. The complex was later declared a national monument, which helped to prevent its demolition long after it ceased to function. Over time, the surrounding harbor grew into a bustling commercial district known as the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, while the silos gathered dust. At least until Zeitz and Coetzee came along………..