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Nandipha Mntambo, Praça de Touros III, 2008 © Nandipha Mntambo / Courtesy of  Zeitz MOCAA
Nandipha Mntambo, Praça de Touros III, 2008 © Nandipha Mntambo / Courtesy of Zeitz MOCAA

Cape Town is Host to Largest Collection of African Art - and It's About Time

Picture of Lee-Shay Collison
Updated: 26 September 2017

For decades, much has been taken or borrowed from Africa — its resources, its fashion and even its art. But, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) is set to change that. After years in the making, the Zeitz MOCAA is the first major museum on the continent dedicated to contemporary African art, and the largest art museum built in Africa for more than 100 years.

Zeitz MOCAA, a not-for-profit organization, focuses on advancing, promoting and preserving pioneering contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora.

The world-class museum occupies the historic Grain Silo complex in the V&A Waterfront, a major tourist attraction on Cape Town’s foreshore.

Macho Mbadala (2017) © Cyrus Kabiru / Courtesy of Zeitz MOCAA

The museum’s core art collection has been loaned by Jochen Zeitz, one of the co-chairs of Zeitz MOCAA, and contains amazing works from acclaimed African artists such as Athi-Patra Ruga, Mohau Modisakeng and Zanele Muholi to name a few.

The organization also recognizes other mediums of art through a Costume Institute and Centers for Photography, Curatorial Excellence, Moving Image, Performative Practice and Art Education, all under one roof.

On show will be pieces from the Zeitz Collection, the museum’s permanent collection, as well as different loans and traveling exhibitions. With changing exhibitions, there will always be a reason to come back.

Mohau Modisakeng, Ditaolo (Frame V), 2014 © Mohau Modisakeng / Courtesy of Zeitz MOCAA

So far, three of 14 opening exhibitions have been announced, namely An Early Career Retrospective by Kudzanai Chiurai (Zimbabwe), Luanda, Encyclopedic City’by Edson Chagas (Angola), and An Early Career Retrospective by Nandipha Mntambo (Swaziland).

Not only does the museum promote African art, it also hosts educational programs to enrich, inspire and bring art and culture to school children.

Thanks to Zeitz MOCAA’s ‘Access for All’ fundraising campaign, local residents who are unable to afford the museum’s ZAR180 (US$14) entrance fee, will not be turned away. The museum will also have a free-entry day for all African citizens on Wednesdays.

© Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou / Courtesy of Zeitz MOCAA

“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. We have been given an opportunity to create a museum for all, and we must guarantee Access for All,” says Executive Director and Chief Curator, Mark Coetzee.

“The right to cultural participation, and access to the artifacts that represent our diverse cultures, is deeply rooted in human rights. This is a principle that Zeitz MOCAA will uphold, defend and keep as a central mission of its reason for being.”

Museum-goers will have access to myriad gallery spaces and other recreational areas, including a sculpture garden, bookshop, restaurant, technical training areas, research labs and reading rooms.

That’s not all; you can top off your cultural experience by booking a luxury suite at the five-star Silo Hotel located above the museum. The 28-room hotel features deluxe and family suites with 360-degree views, a penthouse, and fitness and spa facilities.

© Nandipha Mntambo / Courtesy of Zeitz MOCAA

The Building

Built in 1921, the 187-feet tall Grain Silo was the tallest building in sub-Saharan Africa for half a century. Its 42 giant concrete tubes stored tons of grain before being exported around the world. Nearly a century later, the building has been redeveloped by internationally renowned designer, Thomas Heatherwick of Heatherwick Studio, London, who has opted to preserve the original industrial character of the building, while bringing futuristic elements to the overall aesthetic.

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa © Navigator Films / Courtesy of Zeitz MOCAA

Some of the concrete tubes have been carved away to reveal an oval atrium surrounded by concrete shafts overhead, while the entire space is illuminated by natural light streaming through a glass ceiling. Inside the bisected tubes, cylindrical elevators have been installed to transport visitors to the upper floors. From the outside, large bulging pillowed windows —  resembling diamond-shaped sails — are the building’s most noticeable feature, offering sweeping views of the city below.

Inside Zeitz MOCAA Atrium © Iwan Baan, Heatherwick Studio / Courtesy of Zeitz MOCAA

Inside Zeitz MOCAA Atrium © Iwan Baan, Heatherwick Studio / Courtesy of Zeitz MOCAA

On completion, the Zeitz MOCAA will have 80 galleries spread over nine floors of which 65,000 square feet will be dedicated exhibition space. Through an entire floor dedicated to education, the museum hopes to develop a new art-loving, museum-going audience.

Zeitz MOCAA will have a four-day grand opening from September 22 to 25 2017. Entry will be free for everyone during this week.