Museum Profile: Zeitz MOCAA
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) is a public non-profit contemporary art museum which collects, preserves, researches, and exhibits 21st century art from Africa and her diaspora. In addition, the museum encourages intercultural understanding through educational and enrichment programmes, as well as promotes African art through its permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. In this interview with Omenka, chief curator Azu Nwagbogu, discusses programmes, exhibitions and future plans of the museum.
How did the idea for the of Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa come about and how would you evaluate its impact so far on contemporary art in Africa?
The establishment of the museum came about as a confluence of factors. The V&A Waterfront recognised the significance of its Grain Silo complex as an historic landmark and for years debated possible uses. An art museum was eventually decided upon but a collection was needed. The desire was to house something of public civic significance, and something open to the public. It was through Ravi Naidoo that Thomas Heatherwick was introduced to the Grain Silo complex in 2006, and again in 2011.
Then, German businessman, Jochen Zeitz had long been in discussions with African art experts about building a world-class collection of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora.
On their search for the right location in Africa, they met the V&A Waterfront, which resulted in the creation of the not-for-profit public institution since named Zeitz MOCAA.
The impact has been significant. Not only is it providing a world-class space to big name African artists, but it’s also giving a global platform to lesser-known artists.
In May 2018, you were appointed as the acting chief curator of Zeitz MOCAA. What specific experiences in your successful career as director of African Artists’ Foundation and LagosPhoto Festival prepared you for this role?
First, I thank you for the kind question for indeed one rarely reflects on the past whilst engaged actively in new endeavours. In a sense everything I’ve done professionally has been great preparation and one of the most important qualities is the ability to bring diverse talent to work towards a goal. It’s not always as easy as you’d think but it’s very rewarding when it happens.
What challenges have you faced since taking on the role?
The biggest challenge is to make everyone within and without understand that it takes time to give shape to ideas…the endless comparisons with museums that have such a long history are tiresome.
The other major challenge is the location of the museum on one of the most priced locations on the continent, whereas we are keen to fulfil the ethos of making the museum accessible to all people. In a city with the socio-economic challenges that Cape Town has, it’s important that we drive home that message of access for all. Not just in terms of costs, but in other ways, such as showing that this is a space that is open to those who are new to experiences with art.
Please tell us more about how the space will operate as a multidisciplinary museum, and why you think these types of spaces are important in the 21st century.
As a space for contemporary art, the pieces on display use multiple and modern mediums and styles. We give a platform to artists whose mediums include virtual reality, film, found materials. And this is important because it helps to undo the perceptions (that still persist) about Africa and modernism.
Can you share in detail your process of selecting 29 artists for your current show Five Bhobh – Painting at an End of an Era, an exhibition of contemporary painting from Zimbabwe. Kindly take us through your curatorial thrust.
Five Bhobh offers a synopsis of painting from Zimbabwe today. What we have identified as painting at the end of an era. The Era of Robert Mugabe and how artists, in particular paintings, have shaped their narratives at this crucial time over the last 12 months. Like any substantial story there are several chapters, characters, and perspectives. Part of the narrative is presented by a new crop of artists who have recently begun to direct the plot. Other sections are comprised of anecdotes from those who have journeyed for longer. Together they offer pertinent social commentary through the medium of paint, representing a cross-section of the key figures who are painting at the end of an era and into a new dispensation. Each artist is either pushing the boundaries of painting in new ways, highlighting a long-standing tradition or speaking to relevant issues from Zimbabwe.
(Answer provided by Tandazani Dhlakama, curator of Five Bhobh – Painting at an End of an Era)
What are the long-term goals for the museum?
Our overall mission is to collect, preserve, research, and exhibit 21st-century art from Africa and its diaspora; to bring in international exhibitions; to develop supporting educational and community outreach programmes; to encourage intercultural understanding, all under the umbrella goal of facilitating access to contemporary art. For me, what that translates to is visual literacy for all regardless of age, race, education and social class.
February 26, 2021
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