Located at Cape Town’s V & A Waterfront, the building alone is an engineering and design feat. Converted from a disused grain silo, the London-based acclaimed Thomas Heatherwick Studio breathed new life into the historic landmark. This meant literally carving out the cathedral-like central atrium from the silo’s concrete tubes.
Thus was born Africa’s first major museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its Diaspora on the African continent.
Celebrating more than a 100 galleries across six floors, exhibition space includes a large permanent collection, temporary exhibitions, installations, photography and video.
My companion and I made like moles and headed to the tunnels to see Golden Lion winner Angolan Edson Chagas’s poster pile installation called Encyclopaedic City. Viewers are offered a complimentary poster of the gritty Luandan images.
Back in the bowl-shaped atrium, we wanted to know what lay six floors beyond on the glass rooftop. State-of-the-art rounded glass elevators fitting snugly into the tube-like walls took us there.
A sculpture garden, a nonsensical language underfoot called Cosmic Alphabet and breathtaking views of Table mountain hugging the city greeted us.
The bright outdoor light was a stark contrast to SA photographer, Zanele Muholi’s exhibit, Hail the Dark Lioness. In various intimate ‘oppressed’ positions, Zanele allowed herself to be photographed. She deliberately darkened her skin to drive home the theme of the exoticisation of black women.
Materials typically found in a South African township home is what Lungiswa Gqunta uses to comment on in her Divider– a gallery filled with brown beer bottles suspended from fabric rope. When combined, her materials are transformed into weapons. Petrol and matches in another of her pieces symbolise resistance.
Focusing on the migration of slaves from Africa, Benin’s Julien Sinzogan’s paintings are concerned with the journey between the physical and spiritual realm and the happy ‘return’ of slave souls to West Africa. See his La Jetee and Choc de Cultures-Bon Vent.
Staying with the slavery theme, Glenn Ligon’s Runaways is on black and white lithographs resembling handbills, once used to recapture slaves. Staying free meant remaining invisible. Numerous descriptions of the runaway reveal his friends wrote them. Ligon challenges the perceptions of identity.
Continuing the invisibility theme in a different culture and context is Tunisia’s Mouna Karray’s photographic series Nobody Will Talk About Us. An annonymous body in a white enclosed sheet brings attention to the forgotten people of the Tunisian south.
A personal favourite was the dazzlingly bejewelled tribute to Simon Nkoli – a gay HIV activist. Using foam, flowers and jewels, it was created by South African Athi-Patra Ruger.
Ending on an absurdly upbeat note, we watched William Kentridge’s video installation More Sweetly Play The Dance. The video features a pageant of disconnected people – doing the dance of death, of life or strife – to carnival music. Sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but always moving. Just like Africa’s rhythmic essence.