Zeitz MOCAA – “Controversially Contemporary”?

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa was officially opened to the public on the 22nd of September 2017. It is located at the V&A Waterfront’s Silo District in Cape Town. Most of the build-up to the museum’s opening has been met with much controversy and hype in equal measure.

Some have argued that the museum’s claim to be ‘the largest, concentrated collection of contemporary African art’ is arguably narrow-minded, bearing in mind that most contemporary African art that has been created has not been formally exhibited and is, as a result, excluded in the museum’s goal to be accessible to ALL of Africa and the world. I am yet to visit the museum myself, but I thought I’d explore the discussions that have come up around the museum first, and then write an update once I have actually visited it.

Personally, I feel that for a museum to be referred to, as accessible, in an African context it would need to be all-inclusive of Africa as a whole, as well as, the ideas and notions considered quintessentially African. I am currently studying Art History, within the context of African art history, and have been blown away with how much African art is, either, stereotyped as just consisting of masks and tribal art; when, in actual fact, those pieces barely scratch the surface of the vast array of masterpieces that originate from this continent.

Having said that, the Zeitz MOCAA’s online list of artists on display; 21 out of 49 are artists from South Africa. The remaining 28 are made up of artists from other African countries and artists living overseas who are of African descent (the African diaspora). It seems to me that the museum would still need to expand their collection, a great deal in order to achieve their overall goal and to qualify their title.

While many have been focused on the inside of the Zeitz, others have brought up new discussions based on the physical Zeitz building. The building has been constructed using the structures of the old grain silos that used to stand at the same location. The Zeitz building was designed by the famous, British architect Thomas Heatherwick, who has managed to make a work of art of the building itself. Many critics had an issue that a famous British architect was commissioned to design the building, instead of an incredibly talented African architect.


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Despite the controversy around the building, I think that it can be considered a visual masterpiece and has not detracted from the history surrounding the past purpose of the silos. However, it would have been appropriate to include, perhaps a collaborative effort, an African designer.

I am incredibly keen to visit the museum, to firstly, see what all the fuss is about and secondly, whether I believe it genuinely lives up to its claim as an all-access, inclusive African art museum.

All of the additional information that I used in this blog post was sourced from the Zeitz MOCAA’s website: 

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