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First Look: Africa's Biggest Contemporary Art Museum Opens in Cape Town

Next week the new Zeitz MOCAA—the world's largest museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora—will open its doors in Cape Town. We got a sneak peak.

Today marks the beginning of the preview weekend for the new Zeitz Mocaa, a new contemporary African art museum on the Cape Town waterfront, meant to showcase work from the continent and its diaspora.

The museum is housed in an arresting new structure, a heroic revamp of some century-old grain silos that have long dominated the mix of ship-works and tourist-oriented development around it. Probably the most impressive aspect of the architecture is the interior where British-architect Thomas Heatherwick has cut into the honeycomb like matrix of the silos to create a grand atrium that blends the biomorphic with the brutal—like entering the petrified intestines of an ancient sea creature.

According to Heatherwick the process of reshaping the old structure was about stripping things away and discovering the hidden shapes and materials within it:

"Concrete is often associated with brutality and a hardness—a coldness. And the first test we did of getting the paint off was very encouraging because we found that the concrete wasn't cold. The concrete had warmth. And stones inside this which you can't get in new con concrete now. We had blue stones, many of which come from from a quarry at the base of table mountain."

The Zeitz Mocaa Atrium Photo courtesy of the Zeitz Mocaa. Photographer: Iwan Baan

For such a prestige architectural project, however, the actual galleries feel like an afterthought with much of the windowless space coming across as cramped and dark. Perhaps it's only a function of the preview status this weekend but to see the art one has to navigate through a maze of closed doors with little signage to point the way. It's a bit like getting lost in a hotel "back-of-house." And knowing that much of the space, in fact, sits underneath a luxurious and airy Silo Hotel, with room rates as high as R140,000 per-night [or about 4 times what someone on SA minimum wage would make in a year] kind of gets to why the project has faced some criticism in its conception.

The gallery—though a non-profit institution—was funded by the privately owned Victoria & Albert Waterfront and the design of the building emphasizes the nature of the area as a space for consumption and profit aimed at a global clientele. But none of this is suggesting that there isn't amazing art here, just that there's a bit of a disconnect between what is meant to be Cape Town's marquee public cultural institution and what instead feels like a public gallery wedged into a private space. But this is 2017 after all.

Inside the galleries can be confusing and a bit dark. Photo: Aaron Leaf

Yes, but what about the art?

If you've followed OkayAfrica for some time you'll recognize many of the major artists we've covered make appearances at the new Zeitz Mocaa from the celebrated South African photographer Zanele Muholi to the British-Nigerian master, Yinka Shonibare and many more big names.

The permanent collection is on long-term lone from Jochen Zeitz, a German businessman whose foundation's stated aim is this:

  • The advancement, promotion and preservation of arts and culture from Africa and its Diaspora
  • To provide economically viable access to a core collection of art to the public
  • To operate appropriate schools programme to enrich, inspire and bring art and culture to school children
  • For Zeitz MOCAA to be seen as giving back to Africa and telling the African history story through art and culture

Fair enough.

And it is really marvelous to see all these pieces together. Standouts include the opening exhibitions from artists like Angola's Edson Chagas, South Africa's Nicholas Hlobo—whose magnificent iimpundulu zonke ziyandilandela or Lightning Bird hangs imposingly above the atrium—as well as the separate Centre for Performative Practice and Centre for the Moving Image.

Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou Photo: Aaron Leaf

Athi-Patra Ruga Photo: Aaron Leaf

Kudzinai Chiurai Photo: Aaron Leaf

Marlene Steyn Photo: Aaron Leaf

Kendell Geers Photo: Aaron Leaf

 

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Photo (c) John Liebenberg

'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their country had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of the country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

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Star shine, moon glow from Water Life collection by Aida Muluneh commissioned by WaterAid and supported by H&M Foundation

Ethiopian Artist Aida Muluneh's 'Water Life' Is a Response to the Urgent Threat of Water Scarcity

The photo series, shot in the hottest place on earth, will be showing at Somerset House in London starting this September.

The Ethiopian artist Aida Muluneh will bring her highly-acclaimed photo series "Water Life" to London's Somerset House this September, as part of the creative institution's "ongoing strand of environmental programming." The highly-acclaimed series addresses water scarcity—particularly its grave impact on the wellbeing of women and girls.

Described as an "afrofuturist work," the series was shot in Dallol, Afar in Ethiopia, an extreme setting known to have the hottest and driest conditions on earth. "Taking inspiration from traditional ornamentation and body paint from across the African continent, the Ethiopian-born artist has explored not just issues of water scarcity and ecological emergency but also the vital role of art in advocacy and how Africa is represented in global media," reads a description of "Water Life."

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6 Things We Learned About African Migration to Europe in 2019 From a New UN Report

UNDP representatives presented their "Scaling Fences: Voices of Irregular African Migrants to Europe" report last night at Okay Space. Here's what we found out.

Yesterday, Okay Space hosted a discussion between UN luminaries Ahunna Eziakonwa, Mohamed Yahya and OkayAfrica CEO, Abiola Oke about the new UNDP report, Scaling Fences: Voices of Irregular African Migrants to Europe. The report examines young Africans who are leaving their homes to make the dangerous journey to Europe for economic opportunities—not solely for asylum or to escape persecution. The evening was both enlightening and sobering, and the main findings may be a little different than what you might expect.

Immigration to Europe from Africa is roughly 90 percent lower than what it was in 2015.

In 2015, slightly over 1 million Africans left for Europe. In 2018, it was just over 100,000. However, the percentage of those who drown on the journey has increased. In 2015, it was 1.6 percent of that million, while it grew to 2 percent in 2018. Meaning just over 2,000 people died enroute in 2018 alone. It is a disturbing factor that, four years on, more people are dying proportionately than when the large migrations began.

Even though most of Africa is rural, most of the youth leaving the continent for economic reasons are from the urban areas.


85 percent of those who the report identified came from urban cities or towns, though only 45 percent of Africans overall live in those urban areas. This means that most of them are coming from regions with "relatively low levels of deprivation." Analysts believe the rapid urbanization of many African cities could be a contributing factor. Benin City, Nigeria, for instance, has urbanized 122 percent in only ten years. These cities cannot actually support the people—and their ambitions and talents—who live there. It plateaus and does not allow for further upward mobility.

Only 2 percent of those who left say knowing the dangers would have deterred them.

This means 98 percent would do it again, despite the knowledge of fatalities and difficulties in crossing. The appeal of elsewhere is greater than death. This realization is crucial for all nations to better comprehend the true elements belying migration, particularly for those that this report is concerned with. Of the 1,970 migrants from 39 African countries interviewed for the report, almost all of them are willing to face death for economic opportunities abroad than stay home. As most of the migrants had relatively comfortable lives at home, they are not migrating to flee death or persecution as with asylum seekers. This prompts great questions and led the report to look at the issue from four angles: home life in Africa, motivations for leaving, life in Europe, motivations for returning.

58 percent of those who left were employed or in school in their home country.

Not only that, in almost every demographic and country, those who left had a considerably higher amount of education than their peers. From Malu, those leaving had an average of five years of education, compared to one year with peers in their age group and two years for the national average. In Cameroon, those leaving had an average 12 years, their peers had seven and the national average of six. Even when broken down by gender, both men and women who leave have about nine years of education while the national average is five and three, respectively.

Though the average African family size is five, most of those who leave have an average family size of 10.

When asked, migrants said their main motivation to leave is to send money home. This information is important as it may impact the motivations for needing to leave. The report reasons that an increase in population may also be playing a role in the motivations to leave. It was also reported that those who go abroad and find work send an average 90 percent of their earnings to their families. Essentially, they are leaving existing jobs to live on 10 percent of their new wage, highlighting that working below minimum wage in Europe is more prosperous.

Though 70 percent of those in Europe said they wanted to stay permanently, those who were working were more likely to want to return to their home country.

Conversely, the majority of those who did want to stay in Europe were not earning anything, 64 percent of them, and 67 percent did not have a legal right to work. Over half of those who did want to return home had a legal right to work. Analysts reason that those who did want to stay would likely change their mind once they had an income. This correlation speaks to a significant relationship between work and migration permanence. It also underlines the claim that migration for this group is focused solely on economic results as opposed to social factors.


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What was most striking about the event, however, was the strong feeling communicated in the space about exchanges between Africans regarding what needs to be done. The discussion did not only surround the facts and figures alone, but also the humanity behind understanding why people migrate. At one point, when addressing the crowd of various influential people on the continent and in the diaspora, Eziakonwa said "What are we missing here? What are we doing by leaving young Africans out of the development discussion? Our programs are clearly failing our African youth."

Later, Yahya responded to a question by stating there was certainly a cultural barrier in which Africans do not often address, listen to or respect the youth. "I can say by looking at you that no one in this room would be given a true say," he said. "This is clearly part of the issue." When asked what can be done by others, the response was to work to change the narrative, to focus on prosperity rather than charity and to provide better access and platforms for African youth to share their stories so that the idea of who migrants are shifts. And so we, as Africans, can better know ourselves.

Check out some photos from last night below with photos from Polly Irungu. Follow and share in the changing of that narrative via #ScalingFencesUNDP and #MyJourney.

Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu

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Anjel Boris, Question Mark, 2019, Acrylic and posca on canvas, 133 by 7cm. Image courtesy of Out Of Africa and @artxlagos

What You Need to Know About ArtXLagos 2019

We talked to artistic director of ArtXLagos, Tayo Ogunbiyi, about Lagos's unique art scene and what's to expect from West Africa's biggest art party.

OkayAfrica is a media partner of ArtXLagos 2019.

In three years, ArtXLagos has successfully established itself as West Africa's premier art fair, cementing its reputation as a center of culture for the entire region. Since its founding by Tokoni Peterside in 2016, the art fair has attracted exhibitors, art buyers and members of the West African art scene and beyond—providing a platform for both emerging and established artists and playing a notable role in the global art ecosystem.

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