A First Look at the Zeitz MOCAA

Imagine the vision it must’ve taken to look at an ancient grain silo in a forgotten part of the V&A Waterfront and dream that it could one day be transformed into an extraordinary space dedicated to contemporary African art. This is mused as I gazed up in wonder at the cathedral-like ceiling of the atrium, carved in a wildly ambitious feat of engineering from the 42 grain tubes that comprised the old building.

Four years in the making, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) is finally open and it’s understandable why locals and foreigners are clamouring to get inside. Guided by Okhela Gampu, Operations Coordinator, our team at Cape Grace enjoyed a tour through the world’s largest museum dedicated to art from Africa and its Diaspora.

There are nine floors in total, with 6500 metres of exhibition space housing a mixture of permanent and temporary installations, the foundation collection on long-term loan from philanthropist, businessman and collector, Jochen Zeitz.

Okhela suggests a top-down approach and we oblige, riding the lift all the way up to the mesmerising sculpture garden with works by El Loko and Kyle Morland before navigating our way back down through the 100 cube-like gallery spaces clustered around the atrium – currently circled by Nicholas Hlobo’s winged iimpundulu zonke ziyandilenda – a leathery dragon of epic proportions.

The art – a mix of photography, sculpture, film and audio, costume – is overwhelming and one could easily spend days here, absorbed in the awe-inspiring creativity that emanates from the 12 inaugural exhibitions curated by Director, Mark Coetzee.

If you have limited time, it would be advantageous to take the Museum Highlights Tour – a free one-hour whip through that gives you a broad overview of the all the floors and popular attractions. From there, you might gravitate back to specific centres like the Centre for Performative Practice, the Centre for the Moving Image or the Centre for Photography.

Some of the most striking bodies of work by local artists include Mary Sibande’s triumphant “In the Midst Of Chaos There Is Opportunity” – a glorious battalion of women centred around a life-sized sculpture of Sibande’s mother riding a horse over a snarling pack of hounds.

Equally as mesmerising is William Kentridge’s “More Sweetly Play The Dance” – digital video installation that unfolds over multiple screens, and Athi-Patra Ruga’s “Night of the Long Knives” – a series of technicolour photos with playful elements that are a visual delight.

Other must-sees from the continent and diaspora include Nandipha Mntambo’s cowhide and resin dresses – suspended as if floating in mid-air as part of her “Material Value” exhibit, Zimbabwean Kudzanai Chiurai’s dramatically staged protest art and Isaac Julien’s nine-screen projection “Ten Thousand Waves” – a moving response to the drowning of 23 Chinese cockle-pickers in Morecambe Bay.

We wound our way down through the spiral staircases, discovering the vast spaces, each corner revealing a new and thrilling piece, finally reaching the underground tunnels used to transport the grain – marvels in themselves preserved by leading architect, Thomas Heatherwick and his team at Heatherwick Studio.

It would be unfair to compare the Zeitz to the Tate or MOMA so distinct is its history and purpose, but it has joined the ranks of the above – a glowing celebration of Africa’s rich and ever-evolving cultural heritage.

Shop and Eat
While no food or drinks are allowed in the gallery, there is a glorious restaurant set to open on the sixth floor in December, where visitors might take some time out to reflect on the Zeitz collections, all the while soaking in spectacular views of the city. For now, don’t leave without perusing the official gift shop where you should pick up a memento to remember your first (but certainly not last) visit to our new and extraordinary “8th wonder”.

Opening Hours

  • Wednesday to Monday: 10 am – 6 pm
  • First Friday of the month: 10 am – 9 pm
  • Closed on Tuesdays

Admission is R180 but free for under 18s and free at certain times for citizens of African countries. Check the Zeitz MOCAA website for more on tour times and current exhibitions.

Blog post by: Tarah Darge

Images courtesy of the Zeitz MOCCA

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