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South Africa opens new home for African Art
October 12, 2017, 4:12 pm
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The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art aims to the show the world that contemporary African art that has been ignored for too long by the international art community, is thriving, and worthy of attention and appreciation.

The museum, which opened its doors to the public on Friday, 22 September, is on its own a work of art. The century-old Grain Silo Complex on the historic Victoria and Albert Waterfront in Cape Town, which had been lying disused since 1990, underwent a $38 million transformation to become the state-of-the-art museum.

The huge silo, at one time an iconic edifice of Cape Town’s skyline and the tallest building in South Africa, has been transformed into a 9,500-sqm of custom designed space by the South African office of renowned British architect firm Heatherwick Studio. Spread over nine floors, the Zeitz Museum creatively retains and modifies many elements from the monumental silo’s original structure. It is only befitting that an epochal silo that once mirrored Cape Town’s strong industrial past should now house the world’s largest museum dedicated to modern African art.

The nine-floor museum attempts to thrill visitors with its array of inventive, whimsical, puzzling and, at times, confrontational modern art. Visitors will be greeted by a massive dragon, made of bicycle inner tubes, with a 100-meter-long tail and dazzled by the whimsical, eye-searing bright images of zebras and balloons and richly costumed figures. They will be dragged into a video exhibition that assaults the senses on nine screens and they will be haunted by room after room of ghostly cow hides, plastered into ethereal shapes.

But the museum’s curator Mark Coetzee says the museum's true ambitions are even grander than just amazing visitors. “I think the foremost gesture of the museum is a political one. For a very long time, the narrative of Africa and the representation of Africans have been defined by others, by outsiders. And the museum’s motivation is to say, let’s create an institution where people from Africa, whether we were born here thousands of years or whether we immigrated yesterday, can contribute to the writing of our own history. Let us also define how we want to be represented to the world.”

He adds that the exhibits also give voice to many pressing issues in the modern world. “What contemporary art museums do is, basically, they give us the tools to be able to negotiate the time that we are living in. Artists tend to ask very difficult, complex questions of society: ‘Why is there separation of wealth and power? Why does the ability to represent culture or represent people rely on a few people's input and not a holistic group of people? How do we negotiate difference in society when we have different religions, or different genders, or different orientations?'

“And so what a museum does is, it creates a very safe space to discuss very difficult issues which impact all of us in the 21st century."
 

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