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Converting a 100-year-old disused grain silo into an art museum has taken four years and cost 32 million euros. Visitors to Zeitz MOCAA can marvel at both the museum’s architecture and the art curated from around Africa / Photo: Heatherwick-Studio

World’s largest museum of contemporary African art opens

A new museum which, according to experts, will transform the way contemporary African art, is viewed opens its doors for the first time today (22 September). The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) is located at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa. The 100,000-square-foot space on the V&A waterfront comprises 80 galleries spread over nine floors, and is the biggest museum to open on the continent for more than 100 years.

Cape Town’s Waterfront is a major tourist hub drawing some 24 million visitors each year.

Zeitz MOCAA hopes to compete with some of the world’s most prestigious institutions, such as Tate Modern in London or New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Mark Coetzee, Executive Director & Chief Curator of the museum, said: “The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is the largest museum in the world dedicated to contemporary visual culture from Africa. We have nine floors, over 100 galleries dedicated to contemporary practice from the 21st century.”

The not-for-profit museum was commissioned through a public/private partnership between the V&A Waterfront and German businessman, Jochen Zeitz, former CEO of Puma.

The Waterfront invested over R500-million (€32 million) towards the museum‘s construction and infrastructure development, and although not a shareholder, Zeitz provided his extensive art collection and will finance the running costs and budget for new acquisitions. Considered by many to be one of the world’s leading collections of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora, Zeitz’s collection includes works by such eminent artists as Chris Ofili, Kudzanai Chiurai, Kehinde Wiley, Glenn Ligon, Marlene Dumas, Wangechi Mutu, and Julie Mehretu.

Experts say African artists now finally have an adequate platform to show their works. Occasionally though there are some criticizing that the founder, architect and director of the museum are all White. But Zeitz rejects this, saying that native curators are going to create the exhibitions and events:

“We tried to be as representative as possible of the diversity of Africa and its diaspora and that’s how we’ve started the collection. And hence it’s something for everybody – young, old, kids, people interested in sport, it could be anything – social, political, environmental messaging, so it’s a great variety“.

One of the artists whose work is on display is Nandipha Mntambo from Swaziland. Mntambo, who works in sculpture, painting, drawing and printmaking, said:  “There are amazing things happening in Africa, so it’s not a continent just filled with poverty and war, which is what Africa has been associated with in the past. And so having a platform that gives a different understanding of the continent is a really important thing.”

The Zeitz MOCAA is open to the public from 22 September 2017.

Vivian Asamoah

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