The largest museum of modern art in Africa opens in a former grains silo

Outside Zeitz MOCAA. (Iwan Baan)

The largest contemporary art museum in Africa is set to open its doors to the public.

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) will become the first African museum to showcase art strictly from the continent and the diaspora. Located near a harbor in Cape Town, South Africa, the building used to be Cape Town’s grain silos, a factory part of an industrial area. Built in 1921, it was once the tallest building in sub-Saharan Africa and a source for agricultural advancement in the country before it closed in 2001.

Partly funded by the mall complex, the V&A Waterfront, Zeitz MOCAA plans to provide a platform for artists on the continent to display their work.

Zeitz MOCAAZeitz MOCAA atrium. (Iwan Baan)

The building was designed by British architect, Thomas Heatherwick, who first came to Cape Town around two decades ago, and was transfixed by the factory’s grain silos and lofty heights. When building the museum, which is 100,000 square feet, the silos were sliced and shaped into a concave structure with rock-shaped holes. Zeitz MOCAA will house more than 100 galleries, six research centers, a rooftop garden, and a hotel on the top floor. The museum overlooks Robben Island where former president Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned. Its grand opening is slated to take place on Sept, 22.

The museum is named after Jochen Zeitz, former CEO of Puma and an African art enthusiast. Many of the museum’s items will come from his private collections. “It’s a public museum with a private collection,” Zeitz told the Financial Times, adding that MOCAA is “not [his] museum or the Waterfront’s — it’s for Africa.”

776_1_HR_ZeitzMOCAA_HeatherwickStudio_Credit_Iwan Baan_Harbour viewOverlooking Cape Town’s harbor. (Iwan Baan)

But some have questioned whether the museum will become a creative hub for African artists and people keen to see their work. The museum, despite being a landmark African institution, is named after a German man who once operated global sportswear brand. There are also doubts about Cape Town’s suitability as a host for this pan-Africanist project. Often criticized for its hostility to black South Africans, the city has gained a reputation for being beautiful but bigoted, with South Africans and foreigners often remarking how colonial and Eurocentric it feels.

776_5_HR_ZeitzMOCAA_HeatherwickStudio_Credit_Iwan Baan_Atrium vault
Source: qz