The MOCAA in Cape Town
Finally, Cape Town got its own answer to what the Tate Modern is to London and MoMA to New York! Located right at Cape Town’s buzzing V & A Waterfront, behind its famous Aquarium, amid active wharfs, warehouses and elegant shopping malls, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa – Africa’s largest showcase of African Art, simply called MOCAA – will be another attraction of the Mother City for years to come.
And it all started with some gigantic concrete grain silos – nicknamed ‘our cathedral’ – but suddenly in the way. No one had an idea as to what to do with it . . .
Enter Thomas Heatherwich from the UK, who had visited Cape Town and had been just as enchanted with the archaic relic as the pigeons were. Soon the idea of a museum was born, but the next hurdle came in form of licensing fees of many millions of dollars that huge institutions, like Guggenheim, charge.
It wasn’t until another magical match was born between Cape Town’s curator, and now the director of the museum, Mark Coetzee, and the German philantropist and Art collector, Jochen Zeitz, whose substantial collection of contemporary African Art the MOCAA now houses.
Lure People in to see the Art
What could have “. . . easily been knocked down” was rescued by these visionaries, and British designer Thomas Heatherwich, who you may remember from his award-winning ‘seed cathedral’ at the Shanghai Expo in 2010 – and anything to do with the survival of seeds, trees, plants and our blue planet as a whole is close to my heart as those of you who’ve read my magical realism novel ‘Born with Wings – The Immortal Life of Piu Piu’ know. Praised as ‘Wizard of Oz’ and compared to Michelangelo, Heatherwich went to work. He knew that the danger was “. . . that people would just come to take a selfie and not go inside. In a place that doesn’t have a strong museum-going culture, our challenge was to make compelling innards, to lure people in to see the art.”
The People of Cape Town came
But the people from Cape Town did come! We were amongst the first early morning birds, but I hadn’t seen a queue that long since my years in Paris! Blending perfectly into the architectural design – and visible through the many shiny windows across seven levels from the massive 9-storey-structure – it still snaked along patiently in the dazzling afternoon sun with new people pouring in from all directions, men and women of all ages, cultures, and sometimes in fabulous fantasy dress codes that matched the special occasion, when we left at around 3 pm, in search of a latte, a chair, silence and some time to let it all settle.
WOW! Yes, there’s a Museum Café – right next to the sculpture garden, that you can see from the bottom of the building as I documented on my photos above and below – but the brave ‘Ushers’ directed the crowds in shifts. They had a lot on their hands to keep the flow going from one orderly direction to the other, meaning > in through the entrance hall and > up to the top, to the restaurant with a smashing view in all directions, and > then down, level by level, through 6,000 sqm of exhibition space over 7 floors. And > out through the shop! They did a fantastic job – the Ushers, I mean!
Conflict, Cultural trauma, Connection
Time-permitting, I’ll put together a short video on our excursion at the Grand Opening, but I thought I’d give you some impressions of my mad magical journey on Sunday – Heritage Day nogal! This exhibition includes – as only Art can and must – both sides of the spectrum: the many painful expressions of conflict, comparison, cultural trauma . . . but also of connection between the human and animal kingdom, as well as between this world and an invisible yet always present unseen realm. There is always hope; there’s light after even the longest night. This is Africa!
While I waded through a sea of people, was hushed deeper in glitzy elevators, level by level, past a bleeding rubber dragon lost between gigantic gothic tubes, I often only had a second to react. But seconds leave memories, memories trigger ideas and give rise to new creativity. That’s what Life is all about!
Like a piece in the gigantic collective jigsaw puzzle, each artist has a clearly defined position – and the whole is larger than its many fragments. As such, investing at least two hours in a visit of Africa’s largest Art Museum – with its ‘gaudiesque’ architecture of transformed grain silos, enhanced by a chilling opera voice with a dramatic timbre of ‘gothic gold’ that already greets (and prepares) you as you leave your car in the ample underground parking – is well worth your time. I was thrilled to see so many young families and youngsters – it’s so important to start young, to grow up with Art and give your own creativity wings! It’s part of the freedom of our mind.
THANK YOU to all those visionaries that add to the fullness of our lives! And to the Artists!
What I was missing . . .
This is a private collection and although I thought I had gone through all the levels, I know there are pieces I just haven’t seen.
However, there is at least one ground-breaking South African artists I missed. I can’t help myself to IMAGINE the entrance area of the ‘cathedral’ with a number of benches for people to sit and rest and take in that pure and naked structure . . . a space too jaw-droppingly dominant, too theatrical, too much ‘Art’ in and by itself to allow any interference. And now, IMAGINE on some of the benches – inbetween ‘normal’ people, like you and me – the incomparable clan of ‘Butcher Boys’ by Jane Alexander !
That’s where the below and the above would meet . . .
The End of Carrying It All
On a final note: don’t miss the video installations! They were my favourites – but it’s impossible to convey these in some snapshots. Take your time and walk inbetween the giant screens, feel immersed in the world of light projected towards you and around you . . . Sense. Listen. Feel! Art is said to be many things to different people of different cultures – but no one can deny that it is what happens between the observer – you – and the observed (the painting, sculpture, video). The secret dialogue. Perhaps just a feeling. In these chaotic times take a moment for yourself and be still. It may astound you what you discover . . . and I don’t mean the world out there, but the world within. YOU!
Watch “The End of Carrying It All!” by Wangeshi Mutu, a celebrated artist from Kenya, working between New York and Kenya. Watch it from the beginning to the end . . .
As an artist myself and a writer of magical realism and born in a land of great storytellers – Namibia – I know how including elements of the fantastic, of fairy tales or mythology, are all ” . . . just another door to the truth”, as I heard Salman Rushdie say in a recent interview. I love this ‘Dance between Worlds’ that is so profoundly African . . . and, as such, mine as well.
And watch the Japanese video and the Ocean in the same dark media room – I don’t know how else I should call it as I couldn’t see it all . . . but I will one day!
However, I still remember the Japanese maiden floating on air like from a movie by Akira Kurosawa, murmuring words, soon suffocated by the sound of rotor blades . . . as, meanwhile, on all the other screens, the mighty ocean swells . . . and swells more and engulfs . . . and perhaps swallows the last man on earth . . .
Time to ask who’s flying the helicopter?
Dance between Worlds
But let me end on my favourite painting by Julien Sinzogan from Benin. I felt an immediate soul connection to his work. Reading up on it, my intuition was right: “Sinzogan’s paintings explore the journeys between physical existence (aye) and the spiritual realm (orun) through which spirits are reborn. Sinzogan’s work investigates the passages between these different realms of existence.” So do I in my series ‘Dance between Worlds’.
I’ll certainly go back again . . . maybe I’ll meet your there?
© 2017 Bianca Gubalke