MOCAA, Cape Town's vast new art museum opened last September

Contemporary, controversial and just open

The MOCAA, described as ‘Africa’s Tate Modern’, will be the continent’s biggest ever art museum

In Cape Town, on one of the world’s most recognisable waterfronts in the world, a vast new art museum - the biggest ever in Africa, has been opened, creating the biggest buzz in the continent’s collective creative world for many years.

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) has already been described as “Africa’s Tate Modern” but as observers say, it would be like underestimating its importance.

Housed in a converted grain silo overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, against a backdrop of docks and Table Mountain, the new museum is one of the most striking buildings to have been constructed in Africa. It is also the continent’s first such institution devoted to contemporary art.

“It really is significant [And] the significance is not just for our lifetime but in 200 or 300 years from now,” said Kudzanai Chiurai, a Zimbabwean artist whose work is being shown in one of the new museum’s inaugural exhibitions.

The museum, built with 35 M€ of private will house the collection of the German businessman Jochen Zeitz, along with a series of temporary exhibitions. The opening, nine years after the start of the project, underlines the massive new global interest in African art.

“Before the First World War the most exciting artists were French; in the 1990s they were Chinese. Now the hot new place for contemporary art is Africa,” gushed the Economist in May.

South Africa has a vibrant scene with successful dealers who have built a global presence.

But there has been little public support or appreciation of contemporary artists and many struggle to find recognition.

“Particularly in South Africa, we have had many artists over the decades whose work gets forgotten. A museum can create, with a common thread, a narrative of the development of art. Galleries are too much temporary; a museum doesn't necessarily have the same interest in commercial gain,” said Sisipho Ngodwana, associate at Stevenson Gallery.

Mark Coetzee, the director of the MOCAA, defended the institution against charges of elitism: “An historical museum talks about the past, a contemporary museum speaks about now – the present. South Africa is entering a period of political instability, MOCAA is a response to South Africa’s deep problems and that is not only justified, but essential. Contemporary museums have become a public meeting place where you are challenged by ideas you can hopefully learn from; where you can discuss taboos and have a conversation about something that means to you without killing each other.”

With this philosophy more museums should be opened more often.

October 12, 2017
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