Zeitz Contemporary Museum African Art
Updated: Feb 23, 2019
Jochen Zeitz set up an art museum dedicated to African contemporary art in an iconic Capetonian building.
This is not what you call your typical entrepreneurial story, but I believe it is. I hope that this article makes most Capetonians proud as this story is set in their lovely city. What are Capetonians? They are people that live in or come from Cape Town, South Africa. The subject of this story is art.
It takes us to an old grain silo on the VNA waterfront that has been converted into a museum. This building was not chosen haphazardly. It has a bit of a history. For the largest part of a century, it was the tallest building in sub-Saharan Africa. Many firsts have been bestowed upon this building.
You see, for the architect that converted this building into the museum that it is today, this was his first project on the African continent and it is his first museum. More importantly, this is the first major museum dedicated to African contemporary art in Africa and the world at large.
The building has a lot of space as it has 9 floors with 80 galleries and a rooftop sculptured garden. The interior of the 100,000 square foot museum was designed by British architect Thomas Heatherwick, who created a maze of windowless space to provide a platform for African and of the continent’s descent artists to display their work.
The permanent collection on display is from the private collection of the museum’s patron; Jochen Zeitz. He is a German and former Puma Chief Executive. He called on African artists to come onboard and to feature their work as it is a museum for Africa.
Let me tell you a little bit more about Jochen Zeitz himself. He is a driven individual who puts his money where his mouth is. He took over Puma at a very young age as its CEO and managed to transform the fortunes of the company from one that was dwindling to one that was once more making large profits. At the same time, he managed to attract huge sponsorship deals with top athletes like Ussain Bolt to improve the image of the firm.
Whilst he was doing this, he was also focused on limiting the carbon footprint of Puma’s shoe manufacturing process.
He did not stop there, because when he left Puma he bought a large farm called Segera in Kenya and focuses on conservation there. The museum is therefore his latest project in improving the livelihood of Africans.
Some of the art being showcased are from African artists like Angolan Edson Chagas, South African Nicholas Hlobo who has a sculpture of a dragon hanging in the main hall and carves from Ghanaian Sculptor El Anatsui among many others.
The not for profit museum is partly funded by the VNA Waterfront. Thanks to this, on certain days/periods; the museum is free of charge to African passport holders. Fear not, the museum is not too expensive for people that hold a different passport as the entry fee is around 10 euros per person.
The museum’s grand opening was on the 22nd of September 2017 by one of my personal idols none other than Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu. Thousands of people showed up for the opening, though I am sure that secretly a lot of them came just to catch a glimpse of “The Arch.”
Why did I find this an important topic to write/talk about? Well, there are 2 major reasons. The first is that this museum is for contemporary artists. Meaning that the people that created the art on display are still alive. Which means that the art on display show snippets of African modern life. This enables and empowers them to help put a spin on the current world’s view away from the stereotypes of poverty and war. Instead, these artists help carve and enhance our core identity.
The second reason is that a lot of African art is on display in many museums outside of the continent. This means that a lot of other countries are storing art that their forefathers looted from the continent many years ago and are still benefitting from it by charging people to come and see it. Not only do we lose out on relics from our history, but we also lose out on something that could create revenue. That is why the Zeitz Museum is so important because it is a step towards ensuring that African art stays on the continent and despite it being not for profit, can help towards generating money from it.
Despite it being a very big museum, it naturally cannot encompass all of Africa’s 55 states' (AU recognised) art. Nor should we want that. But it is capable of giving snapshots of what the continent has to offer with its very rich cultures.
If you are ever in the vicinity of Cape Town and have some time on your hands; I urge you to head down to this wondrous building to find out about all the exquisite treasures its belly holds.