AFRICAN AWAK­EN­ING

World-class gal­leries are a clas­sic tourist lure. Now Cape Town wants in on the ac­tion.

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - SNAPSHOT - Words JAMES BAINBRIDGE

AT LAST SEPTEM­BER’S open­ing of Cape Town’s Zeitz MOCAA (Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art Africa), the in­ter­na­tional bevy of jour­nal­ists, sleep-de­prived cu­ra­tors and pan-African artists in at­ten­dance were left in no doubt the US$40 mil­lion ($51.6 mil­lion) in­sti­tu­tion was a his­toric turn­ing point for African art. Sit­ting just off the con­verted grain de­pot’s 33-me­tre-high atrium — im­pres­sively oc­cu­pied by South African artist Ni­cholas Hlobo’s stun­ning rub­ber-and-rib­bon ren­di­tion of the light­ning bird from Xhosa mythol­ogy — the as­sem­bled com­pany heard how the mu­seum would stand as a world-class plat­form for show­cas­ing con­tem­po­rary African art­works. “We’re se­cur­ing sem­i­nal ob­jects from the African con­ti­nent and mak­ing sure they re­main here,” said Mark Coet­zee, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and chief cu­ra­tor of the Zeitz MOCAA. “Ob­jects re­flect­ing so­ci­ety of­ten leave the con­ti­nent never to be seen again, but we’re em­pow­er­ing our au­di­ence, es­pe­cially the youth, to see the art and voices com­ing out of their own com­mu­nity.”

The core of the mu­seum’s col­lec­tion, art­fully dis­played across 80 white-cube gal­leries and site-spe­cific spa­ces within the tubu­lar con­crete si­los and grain el­e­va­tor, has been loaned by sus­tain­able busi­ness guru Jochen Zeitz. Cred­ited with turn­ing around Puma’s for­tunes in the ’90s, the Ger­man mogul owns the Segera Re­treat, an up­scale sa­fari lodge on Kenya’s Laikipia Plateau, where a gallery and sculp­ture gar­den dis­plays works from his col­lec­tion — a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of his love of Africa and a pro­to­type for South Africa’s new mu­seum.

When Zeitz part­nered with Cape Town’s Vic­to­ria & Al­fred (V&A) Wa­ter­front, a tourist com­plex of mari­nas, mu­se­ums and mar­kets in the re­de­vel­oped dock­land of the new Silo Dis­trict, lo­cal res­i­dents were ex­cited by the idea of con­vert­ing the derelict de­pot near the Nel­son Man­dela Gate­way (the depar­ture point for tours of Robben Is­land, where Man­dela was im­pris­oned). Step­ping in to trans­form the site was the vi­sion­ary British ar­chi­tect Thomas Heather­wick — whose past projects in­clude Google’s Cal­i­for­nia head­quar­ters and New York’s Ves­sel sculp­ture — and his team of 20 lo­cal and Lon­don­based ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers. “It was the tallest build­ing in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa for half a cen­tury, but it was hid­ing in plain sight,” Heather­wick said at the mu­seum’s open­ing.

The bud­get for the re­de­vel­op­ment might have been small, but the team from Heather­wick Stu­dio rel­ished the chal­lenge (which in­volved equal parts ar­chi­tec­ture and ar­chae­ol­ogy) of re­sus­ci­tat­ing the her­itage struc­ture. Strip­ping away paint that was ‘ the colour of granny’s tights’ from the ex­te­rior of the de­pot, they dis­cov­ered the con­crete be­neath, in­cor­po­rat­ing blue-tinted stone that came from a Ta­ble Moun­tain quarry. In­side, it proved chal­leng­ing to work within the hon­ey­comb struc­ture, where a steel spi­ral stair­case shoots up one cylin­der like a drill bit, and glass lifts purr up oth­ers. The cathe­dral-like atrium cuts di­ag­o­nally through a dozen of the si­los, its ir­reg­u­lar shape clev­erly achieved by dig­i­tally scan­ning a corn ker­nel and then en­larg­ing it to be­come 10 storeys high.

The build­ing’s ‘found spa­ces’ in­clude the ad­join­ing Dust­house, which was ef­fec­tively a gi­ant vac­uum to re­move the de­pot’s po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive grain dust. Base­ment tun­nels are in­trigu­ingly put to good use by cre­atives from around the globe, from Zim­bab­wean artist Kudzanai Chi­u­rai and Kenyan ‘Afro­fu­tur­ist’ Cyrus Kabiru to the Beni­nese pho­tog­ra­pher Leonce Ag­bod­jelou and An­golan artist and pho­tog­ra­pher Ed­son Cha­gas for his in­stal­la­tion Found Not Taken.

Yet, as the con­crete dust set­tles on the open­ing of the largest mu­seum in the world that’s ded­i­cated to con­tem­po­rary art from Africa and its di­as­pora, does the mu­seum jus­tify the hype? Although it is hard to quan­tify, there are signs it has had an im­me­di­ate im­pact, at the very least. Where once there was noth­ing, now queues of pa­trons reg­u­larly stretch out from the mu­seum’s door.

The Zeitz MOCAA open­ing co­in­cided with the city’s worst drought in four cen­turies, which im­pacted tourism with tales of Capeto­ni­ans stock­pil­ing bot­tled wa­ter and wa­ter re­stric­tions. How­ever, Cape Town’s cit­i­zens pulled to­gether to dras­ti­cally cut their wa­ter con­sump­tion re­sult­ing in the can­cel­la­tion of ‘Day Zero’ — the date when the city would cut the or­di­nary wa­ter sup­ply.

Nonethe­less, con­ser­va­tion ef­forts con­tinue, and Cape Town still man­aged to at­tract 10 mil­lion tourists dur­ing 2017, ready to ‘ save like a lo­cal’ and ‘let it mel­low’. The ar­rival of over­seas vis­i­tors is un­likely to slow down now that Zeitz MOCAA has added even more ap­peal to a des­ti­na­tion known as the ‘Mother City’.

ARTIS­TIC AP­PEAL

While Cape Town could not be la­belled yet as a cul­tural des­ti­na­tion on par with lead­ing lights such as New York or Paris, it is adding artis­tic ap­peal to its long-stand­ing scenic and culi­nary charms. Ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion has cre­ated cul­tural dis­tricts such as the Wood­stock neigh­bour­hood, and its monthly latenight First Thurs­days events pro­mote city cen­tre gal­leries. The in­ter­na­tional art mar­ket is also show­ing an in­ter­est in African art and pho­tog­ra­phy, which is ex­em­pli­fied by fairs that are ded­i­cated to the con­ti­nent’s cre­ativ­ity, in­clud­ing the an­nual Cape Town Art Fair.

Along with the in­de­pen­dent gal­leries and stu­dios at Church Street, The Wood­stock Ex­change and The Old Bis­cuit Mill, the city plays host to a va­ri­ety of ex­cel­lent pri­vate gal­leries, such as Ever­ard Read, Steven­son and South­ern Guild. The South African Na­tional Gallery has a broad col­lec­tion of both lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional work, while op­er­a­tors Cof­fee­beans Routes, Mabo­neng Town­ship Arts Ex­pe­ri­ence and Juma Art Tours also of­fer art-themed town­ship tours for vis­i­tors to en­joy.

If you want to spend more than a day ex­plor­ing the Zeitz MOCAA, there’s no bet­ter place to stay than on top of the mu­seum it­self, in The Silo Ho­tel. The 28-room, five-star ho­tel bal­ances the orig­i­nal build­ing’s ex­posed beams and in­dus­trial arte­facts with colour­ful decor and con­tem­po­rary art­work, and lux­u­ries in­clud­ing com­pli­men­tary mini­bars and bath­rooms with Egyp­tian chan­de­liers. Bub­ble win­dows cre­ated by Heather­wick en­sure the suites en­joy spec­tac­u­lar views, but the roof — with its de­sali­nated sea­wa­ter pool — is the best van­tage point of all, of­fer­ing a panorama of Ta­ble Moun­tain, Sig­nal Hill, Green Point Sta­dium and the V&A Wa­ter­front.

The Silo Dis­trict also boasts the world’s third Radis­son Red ho­tel, which has a mil­len­nial vibe with its games rooms, kitchen-style cafe and red food truck on the rooftop serv­ing smooth­ies and cock­tails. The 252 stu­dios con­tinue the fun with two-tone graf­fiti decor and show­ers with in­tri­cately de­signed tile pat­terns. Just across the Al­fred Basin is the state­lier Cape Grace, a lux­ury five-star ho­tel with old-world charm.

Din­ing op­tions in­clude the day­time eatery Zeitz MOCAA Food and The Silo Rooftop, or take a stroll over the swing bridge to the V&A Wa­ter­front, which of­fers sev­eral pleas­ant choices for a seafood lunch with views of the boats and buskers.

Here you’ll find a branch of the upmarket Har­bour House fish-res­tau­rant chain — choose be­tween grilled Cape cray­fish, paprika-smoked cala­mari and Ka­roo lamb — and Sevruga, with its sushi plat­ters, dim sum and seafood mains. There is also the thriv­ing Oran­jezicht City Farm Mar­ket Day, which is held near the V&A Wa­ter­front on Satur­day, fea­tur­ing a glut of fresh or­ganic pro­duce and hot meals from ke­babs to cur­ries.

Just down from the mar­ket you’ll dis­cover the Grand Africa Café & Beach, where you can sip in­dul­gent cock­tails on the sands of Granger Bay. Mitchell’s Scot­tish Ale House serves a top-shelf se­lec­tion of beers, wines and co­gnacs, The Silo Rooftop’s cock­tails are en­tirely as mem­o­rable as the view, and Cape Grace’s ma­rina-side Bas­cule Bar of­fers one of the south­ern hemi­sphere’s largest whisky col­lec­tions. To con­tinue the party, Shimmy Beach Club is like Cape Town’s ver­sion of Ibiza, with home­grown artists such as Black Cof­fee and Gold­fish play­ing tunes by the pool.

It’s through these clubs and bars, and ever-evolv­ing artis­tic and hos­pi­tal­ity scene, that Cape Town’s grad­ual evo­lu­tion into a lively, modern city be­comes clearer. And in the shape of the Zeitz MOCAA, it has taken an­other leap for­ward.

Shimmy Beach Club Zeitz MOCAA FROM TOP The Old Bis­cuit Mill; cre­at­ing street art on a Cof­fee­beans Routes’ tour; the Cape Town Art Fair. OP­PO­SITE PAGE, FROM TOP Vic­to­ria & Al­fred Wa­ter­front is a ma­jor tourist at­trac­tion in Cape Town; pick up some fresh pro­duce at Oran­jezicht City Farm Mar­ket Day.

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