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Inside Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

The latest development on Cape Town’s blossoming V&A Waterfront is the continent’s first museum of modern African art.

The wheat-shaped atrium of the museum

Iwan Baan

The latest development on Cape Town’s blossoming V&A Waterfront is the continent’s first museum of modern African art.

At the heart of the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, opened in September 2017 at Cape Town‘s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, is a spectacular atrium shaped like a grain of wheat, carved from one of 42 concrete silos and lit like an “industrial cathedral” by a glass roof.

Built in 1921 and lying empty for the past 27 years, the city’s landmark grain silo complex now houses 80 galleries of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora, the first museum of its kind on the continent. Spread over nine floors, the development includes centres for film, photography and art education. Much of the collection is owned by former Puma CEO and entrepreneur Jochen Zeitz.

The museum occupies a former grain silo complex.

The chief challenge of the $50 million project, says British designer Thomas Heatherwick, whose company Heatherwick Studio managed the conversion, was to find a way to carve space within the 10-storey “tubular honeycomb” without “completely destroying” the heritage-listed building.

Guests at The Silo Hotel, opened earlier this year in the complex, have had a bird’s-eye view of the museum’s development. It’s one of 22 historic landmarks in the 123-hectare V&A Waterfront spanning entertainment venues, and commercial and residential development, flanked by a working harbour and the city centre.

Among the launch exhibitions are early-career retrospectives of work by Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai and Nandipha Mntambo from Swaziland. Highlights include Isaac Julien’s nine-screen projection Ten Thousand Waves and Togolese artist El Loko’s vertiginous installation of nine huge etched-glass discs on the floor of the rooftop sculpture garden.

Visitors can book a table at the rooftop restaurant for fine views of Table Mountain and then plunge into the underground tunnels once used to transport grain between silos. The tunnels house a recreation of the found-object installation that won Angolan photographer Edson Chagas the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 2013.

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