Zeitz MoCAA

February 26, 2018

“Opened in September 2017 in the historic Silo District of Cape Town, South Africa, the Zeitz MoCAA is an achievement of design – for the building itself – as well as a beacon of progress and appreciation for Africa and all things inspired by her”

If you’re in Cape Town for business (marketing your brand at an exhibition, perhaps), down to visit some family or just on a well needed holiday (we all deserve a break) a must-see attraction is this newest addition to our great city.


The Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MoCAA) is named after Jochen Zeitz, a German-born, international entrepreneur and philanthropist who fell in love with Africa and felt it imperative to put together a collection of art celebrating the continent. Meanwhile, Cape Town’s historic Grain Silo was decommissioned and the team at the Waterfront wanted to repurpose the space for something that everyone could enjoy. Cue London-based architecture firm Heatherwick Studio who would turn the Grain Silo into the perfect space to house the would-be greatest collection of African art – curated by Mark Coetzee-, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Art really is so subjective, and not to open up a debate about the philosophy of aesthetics, but traditionally the art is meant to speak for itself, so is usually exhibited in quite a sterile environment. But this Grain Silo! A piece of art in and of itself.

Amongst the curated collections of paintings, photography, sculptures, and environments are the remnants of tools used to store and sort the most important elements of human society – our food. This building designed for purpose and function, not even aware of its own inherent beauty housed our very source of physical nourishment, now it is the site primed to become a source of intellectual nourishment for those hungry for it, from all over the world. If you are not one to delve deep into the meanings of (what some might consider) mere lines on canvas, then marvel at the wonder of human ingenuity. First, with the building of the silo itself, then with the re-imagining of the space for a totally different function, that still expresses the spirit of the original intentions of the building – to feed us.

When displaying art in such an unconventional environment one can’t help but be moved. An example is the Dust-house. The purpose of a Dusthouse is to filter the air of the adjoining industrial structures, not only ensuring that the dust stays out of workers’ lungs, but also keeps the building from exploding.

The Dust-house is kept exactly as it is (bird poop and all!) but with an addition: projection equipment and a screen on which the opera “Addio Del Passato” plays (artist Yinka Shonibare). Even if you have no idea the exact function of the Dust-house or are not quite sure what this opera is all about (it is explained on the Zeitz MoCAA website), it’s just – for the want of a better word – cool!






Connect the fact that the Dust-house was to protect the lungs of silo workers to the fact that the lungs of opera singers have to be strong – is this on purpose? Whatever connections or conclusions can be drawn or not drawn, this illustrates perfectly that having the space that the art is in have a personality of its own will not necessarily interfere with the art – sometimes it enhances it.

That being said – the art pieces themselves are quite lovely as well.

Interestingly some art pieces are sometimes not even named. Pieces like “Untitled bust” (pictured below by Mohau Madisabeng), “Inverted Saddle Cut” (also pictured by Kyle Morland), or the pieces that simply state the materials used, like “ink on paper” can be so comforting to the ordinary museum-goer! The perceived anonymity of the work is inviting, as the absence of pretence or a “hidden message” that we are supposed to figure out gives us comfort and freedom to draw our own conclusions. Permission to feel exactly what we want to feel.

It draws us closer to the artists if we feel that maybe they were not exactly trying to “say something”, rather, perhaps, they just felt inspired to create. They felt a rumbling in their souls and when they opened up this is what came out. Like the grain silo itself, a structure that was so necessary to the continued well-being of humans, so too, this creation and consumption of art, without any pretence, or hidden message to it. Just absorb, and feel – like a warm hug for your heart, mind, and soul.

At the same time, the art with titles are also absolutely inspiring. They challenge you to look and search, from every angle. A stand out was “In the midst of chaos there is opportunity” by Mary Sibande (pictured below). A scene where life-sized green, toy soldiers were riding stick horses. Amongst them vultures and rabid hounds. Traditionally the toy soldiers are men, but these were clearly women. In their midst, a figure atop a horse bound with ropes. Is this how the artist interprets a moment in history, or a feeling or a story she was once told. Is it a dream she had?  A scene from her very mind – so at that moment do we all have the superpower of telepathy? Are we literally observing someone’s pure thoughts? How exhilarating. How disturbing. How super!

This piece is part of the exhibition “All things being equal”, which ended February 18th. There are separate exhibitions throughout the museum – different collections of art, with paths expertly laid out for the most insightful experience – and each will come to an end, hopefully making way for new and equally inspiring ones. So even if you’ve been to Zeitz MoCAA once, when you go again it will be a whole new world.

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