A continent in search of (an artistic) capital
African art is claiming its place in the world and consolidating itself in Cape Town, capital of creative expression.
There was a collection looking for a home and a building looking for contents”. That is the simple equation that led Cape Town to become home to Zeitz MOCAA Museum, which will open its doors in autumn 2017.
The collection without a home belongs to Jochen Zeitz, an avid buyer of contemporary art and ex-managing director of Puma. The empty building is the Grain Silo at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, a peculiar construction dating back to 1921, to the far east of the South African capital. And the quote, similar to one by Pirandello (writer of Six Characters in Search of an Author), belongs to British architect Thomas Heatherwick, who is responsible for breathing new cultural life into an industrial building. The Grain Silo was the tallest building in Sub-Saharan Africa for half a century and, in its new life, it will be the biggest museum on the continent.
Cape Town was declared the World Design Capital in 2014.
Foto: Bratovanov / Shutterstock.com
Heatherwick decided to conserve the 42 concrete tubes, measuring 33m high and 5.5m in diameter, from the original building, and make them part of the new project. He has put lifts and spiral staircases inside them and crowned them with a glass roof, which will flood the vestibule with light.
Political and social events, like the end of the apartheid and the democratisation of countries like Zambia and Namibia, illustrate the slow revolution Africa has been undergoing in recent decades. Art has never distanced itself from history and that continues to be true here. Africa is much more than masks and colourful jewels. It has a lot to say to the art world, and experts know this.
MOCAA will be one of the biggest museums in the world, measuring more than 9,500 m² and distributed over nine floors.
In 2016, participants at the Cape Town Art Fair doubled, compared to the year before. 55 galleries and cultural platforms, of which 12 were foreign, exhibited works to 8,500 visitors and 125 collectors interested in contemporary art.
South Africa has three official capitals: Pretoria is the administrative capital, Cape Town the legislative capital and Bloemfontien the judicial one.
Foto: BoaMistura, Cape Town 2011
Art also has a strong pulse in suburban areas and official buildings. Particularly, in the streets of Woodstock, a working-class area, which managed to survive the separatist policies of the apartheid, though it fell into abandon and decadence. For decades, its Victorian palaces and industrial buildings housed drugs, crime and prostitution.
With the arrival of the 21st century, the abandoned buildings started being transformed into co-working centres, restaurants, designer shops and art galleries. The Ruth Prowse School of Art used to be a farm, but today it trains artists from all over the world. The Old Biscuit Mill, a 19th-century biscuit factory, is home to a weekly organic market, boutiques and art galleries. The Woodstock Exchange is the former Woodstock Industrial Centre, and it has become a modern art, design and technology complex. In 2011, it accommodated guests of South African artist Ricky Lee Gordon. He invited all types of creatives to decorate the streets of Woodstock, through his project A Word of Art. Dozens of façades, which used to be grey and dirty, are now adorned with illustrations by well-known artists including TIKA from Germany, and the Spanish Boa Mistura group.
The gentrification of Woodstock and opening of the MOCAA are just two signs that the continent that was looking for a cultural capital has finally found its nerve centre.