Written by Lindsay Krause
Art lovers assemble! Cape Town, South Africa is now home to a trailblazing new art museum – the inimitable Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art. The doors to this unprecedented cultural assembly point opened its doors in September 2017 and has since made headlines around the globe, as visitors flock there to appreciate 21st century art from Africa and the Diaspora.
Situated in the midst of the Silo District near the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa, the Zeitz MOCAA is more than just a museum – it’s a cultural triumph. Conceptualised by British architect Thomas Heatherwick, who also has the distinction of being commissioned to design the new Google HQ, the very building itself is a work of art. The building was once a grain silo and the tallest structure in sub-Saharan Africa for more than 100 years. As such, the renowned architect and his team decided against tearing it down to build a new structure, and instead set to work reimagining the space to make it work as a museum. The result is something so visually striking that it has had the global architectural community abuzz for almost a year.
Essentially, Heatherwick and his team quite literally cut out the middle of the original building, which was comprised of silo cylinders, by carving out the concrete with double-blade handsaws. If that alone isn’t impressive enough, get this – the negative space they carved out was inspired by corn kernels that were left in the silo when the team started working. They took one of the kernels, scanned it digitally, enlarged it to 10 stories high and took the carving pattern from there. Today the building boasts 20,000 square feet of gallery space, spread over nine floors.
This includes newly constructed ‘white spaces’ for exhibitions that require a clean slate, as well as found spaces that were purposely left unfinished. On the exterior side, a series of geodesic windows create an impressive visual impact from atop the structure. This too, was inspired by the building’s original purpose. According to Heatherwick, the 56-panel windows that were forged by local artisans are meant to represent how grain might bulge out of an opening in a bag or container.
As for the art it houses, this is where the Zeitz MOCAA truly comes into its own. There has never been a museum that was curated with the express purpose of highlighting modern African art, and it is an eye-opening experience on many levels. Zeitz MOCAA CEO Mark Coetzee says the museum’s mission is to secure crucial artefacts from the African continent and ensure that it stays on the continent, so it may empower the voices of the youth and engender a sense of artistic pride among the makers in the community. In this, they have truly hit their mark.
For more information on notable art destinations in South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania and further afield, get in touch with our Ker & Downey® Africa Adventurists. By weaving cultural encounters into a Luxventure® trip, you’ll enjoy a rich, multifaceted experience that will leave you a with deeper understanding of this fascinating continent and its people.