The Zeitz MOCAA Museum, Cape Town, South Africa

As Nicky continues her project work in South Africa this month, a visit to MOCAA was on the cards last weekend. The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA), which opened in September 2017 is the world’s largest museum dedicated to African contemporary art, and after a couple of days at Design Indaba and listening to architect Thomas Heatherwick’s conference on this project, it was made all the more special when Nicky visited. 

Located in Cape Town’s V&A waterfront area, the nine-floor, 9,500 sq ft interior featuring rooftop garden, conservation vaults, a bookshop, restaurant, bar and luxury hotel on top adds to the developing Grain Silo complex as a symbol of Cape Town’s industrial history.

Heatherwick describes one of the design challenges when he said, “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. The technical challenge was to find a way to carve out spaces and galleries from the ten-story high tubular honeycomb without completely destroying the authenticity of the original building.”

As Heatherwick admits, “tubes are quite rubbish spaces for showing art,” so two-thirds of the silos were swept away to make space for conventional white cube galleries, “dropped in like shoeboxes” either side of the dazzling atrium.

“We could have so easily knocked it down and built a big shiny spaceship of a museum instead, but the danger would have been that people would just come to take a selfie and not go inside. In a place that doesn’t have a strong museum-going culture, our challenge was to make compelling innards, to lure people in to see the art.” Heatherwick recently said to the Guardian newspaper. 

“It became like archaeology, like excavating out gallery spaces, but not wanting to obliterate the tubularity completely.”

In the places where tubes were cut back, the edges were polished to create a visible contrast between the rough aggregate of the old concrete.

“When we started working, there was still some original corn from the silo, we managed to get hold of one of the grains, digitally scanned it, enlarged that grain to ten stories high, and used that as the carving pattern.” Construction workers used double-blade handsaws to painstakingly carve the curvaceous inner sanctum from the building, giving visitors a sort of X-ray view into its structure.

A huge dragon sculpture by respected South African artist Nicholas Hlobo, is suspended in the atrium.

Above Nadipha Mntambo’s installation features figurative sculptures made from taxidermy cow hides. Born in Swaziland and raised in South Africa, she was recently quoted in an interview with Vogue,  “In the past few years, my work has been included in the school curriculum. For children to come to a place to look at the work that they are reading about is a special thing.

When I was at school, the people we were learning about, whether it was Picasso or Brancusi, firstly were European, and, second of all, were not alive at that time, so engaging with them and their work would never be a part of my life. It gives a confidence boost and a great energy that now school children can see that we are playing on the same playing field. It’s encouraging to us, to artists who are in the collection and to younger people who may want to pursue careers within the field.”

Above left, Untitled (Dress from Moyo) 2013 Kudzanai Chiurai (Zimbabwe) in collaboration with Marianne Fassler (South Africa). Above right a piece by Nadipha Mntambo

Above, Beatrice Vita by Kudzanai Chiurai, oil on canvas, 2015

Above, In the Midst of Chaos, There is Opportunity by Mary Sibande

A truly special space which we encourage you to visit if you ever find yourself in Cape Town!


Images ND & Iwan Baan

V&A Waterfront, Silo District, S Arm Rd, Waterfront, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa