Zeitz MOCAA Public Opening 2017. Picture: Elsabe Gelderblom, Event Design Events
Picture: Elsabe Gelderblom, Farm Design Events

JANE MAYNE

A ‘sacred space’ and ‘The 8th Wonder of the World’ – this is how dignitaries described the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) at a festive ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, 22 September, 2017.

It’s not often one gets to experience something completely novel, cutting edge, and well, pretty massive – so accessing this much-touted sprawling structure is quite a thrill.

Does it live up to the hype? Yes! Overwhelmingly so, thanks to British architect Thomas Heatherwick (Heatherwick Studio) and his team, who have transformed this old V&A Waterfront grain silo into a space able to showcase manifold creative endeavours shaped on the continent by creators who are actively introspecting, interpreting and commenting on the various nuances and complexities of what make us African.

Jochen Zeitz Archbishop Tutu Patrica De Lille Thomas Heatherwick Albie Sachs at The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) opening launch, September 2017
Jochen Zeitz, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Patrica De Lille, Thomas Heatherwick, Albie Sachs at the grand opening. Picture: Jane Mayne

Thematically continental

The overall impact of the disparate work on show is contemporary, imaginative, provocative, and sometimes unsettling. Much of the imagery is tonally African with artworks offering robust insight into issues thematically continental.

There is bound to be healthy debate about inclusions and exclusions, and much of the work will be familiar to many, but regardless, going forward, this enormous 6,000 sq metres of exhibition space housing 100 galleries has the capacity to embrace so much over time.

Zeitz MOCAA Atrium, Heatherwick Studio. Picture: Iwan Baan
Zeitz MOCAA Atrium, Heatherwick Studio. Picture: Iwan Baan

Cathedral-like atrium 

The galleries and cathedral-like atrium space at the centre of the museum have been carved from the silos’ cellular structure of 42 tubes that pack the building. In addition to the warren of galleries, the nine-storey building includes a rooftop sculpture garden, plus state of the art storage and conservation areas, a bookshop, restaurant, bar and reading rooms.

Opening exhibitions

Much too many to mention! But some highlights you’ll get to see are the likes of Nicholas Hlobo, Mary Sibande, Nandipha Mntambo, Roger Ballen, William Kentridge, Kudzanai Chiurai, Samson Kambalu, LGBTQI+ (Zanele Muholi), Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou, Frances Goodman, Athi-Patra Ruga, Julien Sinzogan, Penny Siopis, Marlene Steyn, Chéri Samba …

A Handspring Puppet delights the crowd. Picture: Jane Mayne
A Handspring Puppet delights the crowd. Picture: Jane Mayne

Zeitz MOCAA grand opening

An expectant crowd of VIPs, media and busloads of schoolchildren waited patiently outside the towering structure, totally focused on the lure of the artistic treasure inside.

Africa Melane MC’d Farm Design Event’s programme, which included a choir, speeches by German art collector Jochen Zeitz, V&A Waterfront Chairman Elias Masilela, architectural designer Heatherwick, Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille, Western Cape Premier Zille, Executive Director of Zeitz MOCAA Mark Coetzee, and a blessing by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. This all culminated in a Ribbon Cutting and short parade by The Handspring Puppet Company’s ’s lifelike elephant puppets.

Launch day was not the best viewing day jostling with the lurch of crowds, so a more measured visit should allow art lovers to take in the complete scale of the works on show. What strikes most on entering is the expanse of the church-like ‘central chamber’, which offsets a myriad of spaces on multiple floors. The vast nooks and crannies are perfect for installations like Roger Ballen’s enigmatic little cul de sac corner, titled Rooms of the Ballenesque.

Mary Sibande - In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity 2. Picture: Jane Mayne
Mary Sibande’s In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity 2. Picture: Jane Mayne

Premier Zille summed up Zeitz MOCAA in her speech – not only will this be “a game-changer for architecture, but for art in Africa. This will be a destination for art, but also for the building.”

One heads-up before you go – study the MAP, unless you want to be Alice in Wonderland and lap up the expected pleasures as you go.

What: Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA)
When: Friday, 22 September 2017 Grand Public Opening – Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
Where: Silo District, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa
Zeitz MOCAA opening hours: Daily 10am – 6pm, closed Tuesday
Zeitz MOCAA buy tickets: https://zeitzmocaa.museum/
Daily Admission: R180 per adult
Free entry:
– Under 18s free
– Wednesdays: Free entry for African citizens every Wednesday, 10 am – 1 pm
– Museum Night: Free entry between 5 pm – 10 pm on Museum Night. Last entry 9:30 pm
Half Price: First Fridays between 4 pm – 9 pm every first Friday of month. Last entry 8.30 pm
WS