Art 101

The Heart of Modern Art in Africa

Ellie Armstrong reviews Cape Town's Zeitz MOCAA, the largest contemporary art museum in Africa.

By Rise Art

Visiting the Cape of South Africa is wonderful. The sun. The sand. The safari animals. The spectacular Table Mountain that overlooks Cape Town itself. And now it’s the hottest destination for art lovers of the world too. Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art opened in September 2017 and it’s a game changer.


The museum, seen from the outside here, is a converted grain silo. Photo credit: Iwan Baan.


Zeitz-Mocaa is Africa’s first major museum dedicated to contemporary African art, and is packed full of some of the best pieces of art from across the continent. The project is more than a showcase of spectacular art - it represents a more profound act of giving African artists a voice. For executive director and chief curator Mark Coetzee, the museum is a “platform for Africans to tell their own story and participate in the telling of that story”.


Inside the museum. Photo credit: Iwan Baan.


Built on the back of famed businessman and philanthropist Zeitz’s personal collection (widely considered to be the leading collection of contemporary African art in the world) it houses nine floors and over 100 galleries of artworks.


Visitors admiring the museum's extraordinary interior. Photo credit: Iwan Baan.


The building itself is an impressive feat of design. It’s a re-interpretation of an old silo by British Architect Thomas Heatherwick, which gives you the chance to imagine what the journey of a single seed through the structure might have been like, and takes the shape of a husk into the carved out center of the fantastic building.


The museum with Lion's Head in the background. Photo credit: Iwan Baan.


There is truly ground-breaking work at every corner in Zeitz MOCAA. Here are some top pieces to look out for:


1. Kudzanai Chiurai

Chiurai’s mixed media work, videos and stills, spread over four rooms on the second floor extend an indulgent, hyper-real invitation into his fictional worlds.


Still from Iyeza (2014) by Kudzanai Chiurai.


Inspired by Banksy's street works, but reflective also of Basquiat’s use of animal imagery, writing and incorporation of anatomical drawings, Chiurai’s mixed media work including True Believer (2005) and series The Invention of Africa (2017) draw you in and invite you to stand a look deeply.


The Invention of Africa I (2017) by Kudzanai Chiurai.


2. Zanele Muholi

Muholi’s series of Faces and Phases showcases LGBTQI+ people from South Africa. Hung with frames touching each other, the life size portraits make this intimate self-contained exhibition feel like standing in a room full of welcoming strangers.


Phila I, Parktown (2016) by Zanele Muholi.


Meet their eyes. Consider their stories. Admire the striking simplicity and power of Muholi’s photographs (and go away wishing you took pictures quite this good).


Bona Charlottesville (2015) by Zanele Muholi.


3. Michele Mathison

Mathison’s work Harvest (2013) was created for the 55th Venice Biennale and curated into the Zimbabwe Pavillion’s Dudziro exhibition. A grouping of blanched ceramic corn husks, hollowed on the inside, sit in a pile; almost discarded on the floor. Nourishing food, made of indible ceramic. Wholesome corn, hollow and empty inside. 


Chibage (2013) by Michele Mathison.


Around are what appear to be carbonised stumps of wood - but these too are merely hollow acrylic resin and charcoal composites. A commentary on famine, hunger, but also hollow administration and empty political promises of plenty and industrialisation, this work is a must see.


View of the museum from the front. Photo credit: Iwan Baan.


Don't miss out on Zeitz-Mocaa if: You’re interested in new and upcoming art from Africa

Look out for: Kudzanai Chiurai and Zanele Muholi

Indulge by: Staying in the hotel on top of MOCAA and popping down for art before breakfast

Make sure you’re ahead of the curve by visiting next time you’re in Cape Town.

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