Cape Town celebrates repurposing iconic waterfront grain silo as African art museum

On September 22-25, 2017, the grand opening of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) took place in Cape Town, Africa.

It was one of the most anticipated cultural events on the African continent for many decades. It’s billed as the most significant museum of contemporary art in Africa, and the largest art museum built in Africa in more than 100 years.

Historic photo of waterfront silo.
Date and Photographer unknown.

Of particular interest to Revitalization News readers is the fact that the museum is housed in a repurposed and renovated old grain silo. Built in 1921, the abandoned silo in Cape Town’s harbor was long a major factor underpinning the nation’s farming economy.

For almost a century, the 187-foot-tall silo has also been a waterfront icon.

First announced in 2013, the process of converting the historic silo at the V&A Waterfront into a cutting edge contemporary art museum was an ambitious four-year project. Zeitz MOCAA opened to the public during Heritage Weekend 2017.

An aerial shot of the massive undertaking.

The Museum, a partnership between the V&A Waterfront and Jochen Zeitz, is the first major museum in Africa dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its Diaspora. It’s also the first African institution to acknowledge new media through the establishment of different centers and institutes within the overall museum.

Any architectural move had to play with the building in some way and expose its inherent spirit,” said Mat Cash, the project architect from Heatherwick Studio. “By actually repurposing it, we could perhaps create something stronger.

Zeitz MOCAA houses Centres for Costume Institute, Photography, Curatorial Excellence, the Moving Image, Performative Practice, and Art Education.

Repurposing industrial sites is seldom pretty.

In addition to the different Centres, the museum also features a myriad of gallery spaces, a sculpture garden, bookshop, restaurant, technical training areas, research labs, reading rooms etc.

In addition to exhibiting an extensive art collection from some of Africa’s most talented artists, Zeitz MOCAA has sought to create a contemporary art museum that is easily accessible to South Africans and continental visitors.

The Museum’s “Access for All” program ensure that no one is ever turned away from the Museum due to the inability to afford admission.

At its heart, Zeitz MOCAA is centred on the promise of creating a museum that showcases the best talent and creativity of Africa and grants access to everyone,” said David Green, CEO of the V&A Waterfront and Co-Chair of Zeitz MOCAA’s Board of Trustees.

The Access for All program gives visitors under the age of 18 free entrance to the museum all year round, free admission every Wednesday morning for all South Africans and other visitors from the African continent, and half price admission for all on “Late Night Fridays”. The Museum is removing financial barriers to entry for those who may not have the resources to visit otherwise.

Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Museum, Mark Coetzee said: “This Museum is a symbol, an icon, of the confidence we feel about being African, the confidence that we feel about our place in the world. And that’s what makes this so extraordinary. We have been given an opportunity to create a museum for all, and we must guarantee Access for All. The right to cultural participation and access to the artefacts that represent our diverse cultures is deeply rooted in human rights. This is a principle that Zeitz MOCAA will uphold, defend and keep as a central mission of its reason for being.”

All photos courtesy of Iwan Baan, unless otherwise credited.

See Zeitz MOCAA website.

See Heatherwick Studio website.

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