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Mary Sibande, ‘In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity’


More than four years in the making, the V&A Waterfront’s R500-million project to reimagine the historic grain silo into the world’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora has reached completion, culminating in the official public opening of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) on Friday, 22 September.

Conceptualised by the V&A Waterfront, in consultation with Heatherwick Studio, the museum is housed in a building that had humble beginnings as part of an industrial shipping facility in the Cape Town Harbour. The almost 100-year-old grain silo today has an entirely new purpose: custodian of some of the most important contemporary artwork on the African continent.

A joint not-for-profit partnership between the V&A Waterfront and German business entrepreneur Jochen Zeitz, the museum is an important endeavour in almost every respect.

From preserving the historic architectural and industrial legacy of what was once the tallest building in South Africa, to developing a sustainable not-for-profit public cultural institution that collects, preserves, researches, and exhibits cutting edge contemporary art from Africa and its Diaspora, Zeitz MOCAA is intended to be an important cultural landmark that contributes to a stronger, wider appreciation of the continent’s cultural heritage.

“Our vision was to create an accessible, contemporary art museum and it has finally come to fruition,” said David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront.

“We recognised the importance art plays in society and the need to showcase the talents of Africa in Africa. It is for these reasons we are so proud to be able to unveil a home that will be not only a powerful platform for the artists but allow locals and international visitors access to great works of art, that will become the legacy of society as a whole.”

The grain silo’s architectural redevelopment from disused industrial building into a cutting-edge contemporary art museum was undertaken by London-based Heatherwick Studio in conjunction with local South African architects.

Thomas Heatherwick, Founder of Heatherwick Studio, said: “The idea of turning a giant disused concrete grain silo made from 116 vertical tubes into a new kind of public space was weird and compelling from the beginning. We were excited by the opportunity to unlock this formerly dead structure and transform it into somewhere for people to see and enjoy the most incredible artworks from the continent of Africa. We are all looking forward to witnessing the impact of the museum’s ambitious artistic programme and the museum taking its pivotal place in the middle of Africa’s cultural infrastructure.”

The galleries and the cathedral-like atrium space at the centre of the museum have been literally carved from the silos’ dense cellular structure of forty-two tubes that pack the building. The development includes 6,000 sq metres of exhibition space in 100 galleries, a rooftop sculpture garden, state of the art storage and conservation areas, a bookshop, a restaurant and bar, and various reading rooms.


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Nandipha Mntambo- Installative view.

Zeitz MOCAA is the first African institution to acknowledge new mediums through the establishment of different centres and institutes within the overall museum: Centres for a Costume Institute, Photography, Curatorial Excellence, the Moving Image, Performative Practice and Art Education. The museum’s founding art collection, the Zeitz Collection, is on long-term loan, and forms the basis of the extensive art on display at the newly opened museum.

Zeitz MOCAA has sought to create a contemporary art museum that is easily accessible to South Africans and continental visitors. The Museum’s ‘Access for All’ programme will ensure that no one is ever turned away from the Museum due to the inability to afford admission.

The ‘Access for All’ programme will see visitors under the age of 18 allowed free entrance to the museum all year around, free admission every Wednesday morning for all South Africans and other visitors from the African continent, and half price admission for all on ‘Late Night Fridays’. The Museum is removing financial barriers to entry for those who may not have the resources to visit otherwise.

Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Museum, Mark Coetzee said: “This Museum is a symbol, an icon, of the confidence we feel about being African, the confidence that we feel about our place in the world. And that’s what makes this so extraordinary. We have been given an opportunity to create a museum for all, and we must guarantee Access for All. The right to cultural participation, and access to the artefacts that represent our diverse cultures, is deeply rooted in human rights. This is a principle that Zeitz MOCAA will uphold, defend and keep as a central mission of its reason for being.”

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