Jochen Zeitz
Jochen Zeitz
Image: David Crookes

“Art doesn’t belong to anyone: it’s there to be shared and preserved for future generations,” says Jochen Zeitz, the German art collector whose vast collection will be housed in the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz Mocaa) in Cape Town, which opens in September.

Since recognising the architectural significance and historic relevance of the Grain Silo complex, the V&A Waterfront developers wanted to repurpose the structure, and, after much deliberation, they opted for an art museum. For this to happen, the complex needed clever remodelling, as well as a founding art collection.

British architect Thomas Heatherwick undertook the task of converting the Grain Silo complex into a design masterpiece. The final piece of the puzzle was the collection.

Zeitz had been working with South African curator Mark Coetzee to build a world-class collection of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. Their collaboration resulted in the creation of the not-for-profit public institution, Zeitz Mocaa.

Q&A

RAPELANG RABANA, CEO and founder of Rekindle Learning and World Economic Forum Global Young Leader 2017

How will you ensure that Zeitz Mocaa is an authentic product of Africa and not a reflection of a European perspective or interest? We are entrusting the museum to African curators from across the continent, and have also established a curatorial trainee programme. Young African graduates will train at Zeitz Mocaa to become the museum’s curators. To counter having any single voice, we have a diverse board of trustees from Africa and its diaspora, to ensure that the museum is accessible to all, and is as inspiring and representative as possible.

MANDLA SIBEKO, director of Artlogic and the FNB Joburg Art Fair

Why as a European have you developed Zeitz Mocaa in Africa? Africa has been an integral part of my life for 25 years; Kenya is also my home. I have always been fascinated by the diversity of its people, its cultures, and its beautiful nature. As someone who is interested in art, I thought contemporary African art deserved a greater platform. Growing up in Europe, I had the privilege of being able to visit museums frequently, but in many parts of Africa people don’t have that access, and I wanted to try to change that in some small way.

What is your long-term vision for the museum and its contribution? We want to continually evolve, to maintain relevance, and to be as representative as possible of the African continent. We want to enable contemporary African artists to share their freedom of expression. We want to host important international exhibitions and, in turn, loan the Zeitz Mocaa collection to other museums, thereby creating reciprocal relationships where we showcase global art, while also sharing the incredible talent of African artists with the rest of the world.

TREVYN MCGOWAN, founder of the Guild Group

What design aspects resonate with you in the city of Cape Town? The possibility to revive and rejuvenate. Cape Town’s grain silo at the V&A Waterfront was an important part of the city’s history, once connecting South Africa’s grain produce with the rest of the world. With its new lease on life, we now see the silo as a vessel for sharing Africa’s artistic talent and culture with the rest of the world. The building’s original architecture and design was amazing for its time, so the silo’s iconic tubular design was something we wanted to maintain and incorporate into the new design of the museum.

What excites you about Africa right now? I’ve been seeing incredible talent coming out of Africa in all aspects of artistic expression — music, fashion, film-making, design, food, architecture, and, of course, art — the list is endless. So just about everything about Africa excites me, and I’m glad the rest of the world is finally waking up to it.

KHOLISWA THOMAS, art consultant

How will the museum get a new local audience interested in contemporary African art? Zeitz Mocaa’s principle of “access for all” ensures that a local audience will always be able to visit the museum and experience the art. There will also be a strong educational aspect to the work of Zeitz Mocaa, which will include curatorial training programs, community outreach projects, and local engagement.

What are some of the ways in which the museum plans to engage the youth, in particular? Zeitz Mocaa will provide free access to the museum for everyone under the age of 18. This is part of a wider commitment to enable accessibility for all, such as providing free entry to local people on Wednesday mornings and offering discounted entries on other days. Our access for school children will be a huge part of our educational programme.

EMMA BEDFORD, Aspire Art Auctions

I believe you have one of the most impressive collections of art from Africa and the African diaspora. Can you share some of the highlights we can expect during the opening? Works by the very talented Nandipha Mntambo, a multi-media installation by Zimbabwean artist and activist Kudzanai Chiurai, and the award-winning work of Angolan artist Edson Chaga, to name a few. The rest will be a surprise from our curatorial team! How do you think Zeitz Mocaa will change the cultural landscape? I think we are already seeing a shift in the cultural landscape: there is palpable excitement about the opening of Zeitz Mocaa, and I believe the support and enthusiasm from the artists themselves has contributed massively to this. I also think the world is finally waking up to the quality and talent of the contemporary artists coming out of Africa, and this can be seen in museums, galleries, and auction houses across the globe.

SETH SHEZI, writer, photographer, and creative director at Shezi.ink

Why did you choose the V&A Waterfront to house your collection? Cape Town is an incredibly diverse and creative city: a gateway to Africa that is enjoyed by both locals and visitors from all over the world. It was after many years of searching for a place to house my growing collection, that we fortunately met with the V&A Waterfront and realised we were working in parallel. They were considering how best to repurpose the historic Grain Silo, while Mark Coetzee and I were building a world-class collection of African contemporary art which we wanted to house in Africa, somewhere the collection could be seen by as many people as possible. The meeting of these two visions resulted in the creation of Zeitz Mocaa.

African fashion is getting a lot of attention at the moment, and inspiring high-end brands. Will the museum include an African “fashion institute” of sorts? African design has historically always inspired fashion in a broader sense, and we felt it was an important part of Africa’s creative legacy. The Costume Institute of Zeitz Mocaa is one of six different centres at the museum. We wanted to show that civilisations have, through the ages, always used material culture such as clothing, jewellery, face painting, body painting, and modification to express a myriad of different positions regarding morality, taboos, affiliations, wealth, origin, aspiration, gender roles, and rebellion. Understanding the history of costume allows us to comprehend the complexity and deep history of humankind, and is an important part of Africa’s story.

JACQUIE MYBURGH, editor of Business Day Wanted

Do you think having someone like you associated with such a high-profile development at the V&A Waterfront precinct is the going to attract even more lucrative foreign investment to the precinct and Cape Town as a whole? Cape Town has endless possibilities, but my focus is to ensure that we can provide a collection that is relevant and representative of the African continent, and a cultural institution that people find exciting and inspiring. We hope that Zeitz Mocaa will become a voice and cultural centrepiece of Africa, attracting local attention as well as visitors from around the world. The more successful Cape Town becomes, with its own visitors and investors, the better it will be for the success of the museum, so hopefully it creates a win-win for all.

What keeps you up at night? My baby daughter Frankie!

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