Day 3. Cape Town

For our first visit of the day, we headed out to Tokai, located about 25 km outside of Cape Town. Nestled right next to Groot Constantia, the oldest wine estate on the continent, we find the non-profit Norval Foundation. It’s the second privately funded foundation established in Cape Town in the past year (Norval opened in April of 2018, only seven months after Zeitz MOCAA), and a significant driving force in diversifying the local art scene.

In the entry hall we were greeted by chief executive Elana Brundyn and chief curator Owen Martin. Both Brundyn and Martin were actually working at the Zeitz MOCAA when they were approached to lead the Norval Foundation, an ambitious institution focusing on contemporary and 20th century South African and international artists.

The newly opened building also houses founder and property mogul Louis Norval’s private collection (better known as the Homestead Collection, comprised of about 1505 pieces, mainly paintings, drawings and scuptures by 20th century African artists) although it’s important to stress that the Foundation exists entirely separate from the collection and has no real obligation to showcase it. At this point, the Norval Foundation has no acquisition budget and is mainly concerned with making the work of important or largely overlooked South African artists widely accessible to local and international visitors, and providing the necessary art historical context for these art practices.

The solo presentation of Mmapula Mmakgoba “Helen” Sebidi (SA, 1943) is a good example of someone who has been exhibiting for a long time and has been reluctantly part of the commercial world (she is represented by Everard Read Gallery), but only now, after more than forty years, was invited by the Norval Foundation to exhibit her work in an institutional context. At 27, Sebidi, a domestic worker with a raw talent for painting but coming from a humble family, enrolled at the White Studio established by pioneering black painter John Keonakeefe Mohl after encouragement from her employer. She got her first commercial break in the eighties and has been painting ever since. Sebidi draws inspiration from her experiences of  the suffering inflicted by years of apartheid and township life, and depicts these in harrowing but colourful tableaus showing abstracted human and animal figures. In this exhibition titled “Balthaping Ba Re!” she dedicates herself to mythologies and ancestry and invites us to think through the spiritual meaning of animals.

Other noteworthy exhibitions on at the moment are clustered under the umbrella “Re/discovery and Memory”, a ‘series of interrelated solo exhibitions which focus on the productive dialogue between Sydney Kumalo, Ezrom Legae and Eduardo Villa, at a time when South Africa was deeply divided by its politics and social structures.’

Upon entering these exhibitions one has to pass through “The Atrium”, an open space connecting the sculpture garden with the exhibitions. Every year an artist is commissioned to create a piece for this space, Serge Alain Nitegeka (who we’ve encountered at Stevenson yesterday) being the first one to create an immersive installation resembling a dense cripple wood forest.

One of the biggest assets of the foundation are the beautiful gardens and the sculpture park surrounding the institution. Located on protected wetlands and home to exclusively indiginous plantlife it’s a much more lush iteration of the kind of sculpture parks we are used to in the lowlands.

Driving up from Capetown, it was quite unsettling to notice all of the heavily guarded houses, sporting spiked gates and rolls of barbed wire on top. The Norval foundation is no different with its heavy entrance gate and security guard checking everyone who enters the property. It’s not necessarily the most inviting atmosphere with the posh restaurant adding another intimidating barrier for the underprivilegd communities. The question on everyone’s lips and which also concerns Zeitz MOCAA is how both institutions will be able to share the exhibitions and wonderful garden with a diverse audience.

Helena Kritis

Studio Visit Mawande Ka Zenzile – The problem we didn’t create
location: Nyuanga east

Nyanga is one of the oldest and Black townships in Cape Town. It was established in 1946 and proclaimed a township during the same year. It lies about 26 kilometres from the City centre. Nyanga, meaning ‘moon’ is still poor and is made up mostly of informal settlements where people live close together in shacks made of zinc, cardboard and wood – this despite recent governmental development initiatives to provide more brick houses. Families here live below the breadline. Despite this, Nyanga is where things are happening. Organisations like: ‘Abalimi Bezekhaya’ are promoting a culture of self-help by facilitating food growing and environmental action, and role models like ‘Mama Maphosela’, who takes in TB and Aids orphans, are working to deal with the stigma attached to HIV. Vibrant entrepreneurs have opened barber shops, hairdressing salons, tuck shops and informal traders and fruit sellers, line the main streets.

Essentially Nyanga was created as a result of the migrant labour system.

Initially migrant workers were virtually all men, who needed to earn a wage to pay hut taxes introduced by the government. There were few job opportunities in the rural areas, so they had to come to the cities to work for cash to pay the government taxes.  People moved across the country, often far from home, to work for a short while and then return to their families.  Later, women, too, became migrant workers, mostly doing domestic work for White families. The migrant labour system provided cheap labour for White-owned mines and farms (and later factories). The system also brought about the racial segregation of land. Between 1950 and 1960 the government started the policy of forced removals. In 3 years time 16.000 Africans were evicted from Divco areas( The Cape Divisional Council)The evictees were moved from shantytowns in these areas to small houses and self-built shacks in Nyanga. for more info read here.

We arrive with the group in a bus in the township and the contrast feels awkward being surrounded by poverty. Shacks made of zinc and cardboard form a mosaïc patchwork of grey and brown colors highlighted by brick houses painted in orange, yellow or blue. The patchwork looks as if it’s intuitively painted by an artist who has no concept or plan.

As we enter a Maroon container, the studio of Mawande Ka Zenzile ,we are welcomed  by   loud music and it felt like a wall of sound we had to cross in order to enter his sanctuary. Being an artist myself I know how sacred a studio can be. The space is small and filled with books, tools, a couch and an electric heater. On the wall a photo of his son and we see part of a painting with a naked black man. The containers is placed in front of the house where the mother of the artist lives. An orange two store brick house. Around the corner there is a primary school and children look at us with curiosity.

Mawande immediately starts to talk and his words cover us like a waterfall of drops. He is an intellectual but what bothered him at the university  is  how knowledge was created and  how the systems of knowledge production are constructed by the same systems of power which oppressed blacks. Art saved him because it gave him a different perception on the world. His life completely changed when he decided to become an artist. He started to realize that there are other methodologies of knowledge production. The knowledge he  got at university was second hand knowledge. So he decided to trust his own intuition and step away from these knowledge prodcutions. His intuition was always there but he was taught not to trust it. “Intuition is a European vocabulary. We do believe in ancestry as guidance in this realm. Ideas and answers only come when I am in a certain state of mind.” he says “When I am in my studio I don’t think” Which I can understand. He has read so many books that there must be  thousands of words dancing in his head. Creating brings you in a different sate of mind. It’s a way of escaping your thoughts. Everything  he creates is part of what is surrounding him. He makes sculptures, installations and does performance. Painting was always important to him. He uses cow dung and mixes it with pigment to paint with. It is a way to lift the materiality of the dung to another level. Cow dung brings back childhood memories because it was used to cover the floor of his elderly home. When they wanted the house to smell fresh, they used cow dung. It stands symbol for nothing more and nothing less. It is what it is. He let ’s the viewer struggle with content and meaning.

My mind wanders off to an interview I saw with Chris Ofili. A lady in the audience asked him where the elephant dung came from. Chris’ answer: “The elephant dung comes from the elephant.”

“There is something magical about art when you look at it “ he says . What a capitalistic system does is forgetting that there is a world beyond reality and consumerism. Art helps us to re-imagine a different future. Sticking to the same system makes that the ones who were lefties and  activists and protesting for a better world now have become the new rich of the future. It is a repetitive system.

Decolonization was a way to dig deeper into knowledge production and it helped him to create a different paradigm. It helped him to find a alternative approach. Decoloniality on the  other hand imposes another positionally. The majority of theorists are from South America and they didn’t have the experience he had. There is no Africanism in there theory. Post -Colonialitity  was also trapped in a modernist approach. It takes  away the agency from you and it makes you depending on other people to create knowledge for you. An art object is free from all that.

Using images from Lumumba and Kadaffi and flags is not related to Iconoclasm. He doesn’t want to be defined as an iconoclast. They are just symbols. Symbols and worlds are already existing. Everything is already there. The question is how do you bring them together to create a sentence. The object is nothing it is what we project on the thing that gives the thing it’s meaning. We don’t think about logic and what it is. Who defined those terms? One doesn’t look on how they influence each other. When you go back to first hand knowledge you will find a different truth.

What is meant by ‘The problem we didn’t create’. The title of his catalogue.

Racism, sexism, poverty, inequality, environmental problems were not created by the ones who are marginalized in this world. At the same time the problem in itself also carries a solution. Hegel says that Africans don’t have a history. The ones who have  controle on how you think and what to believe that’s also a problem we didn’t create.
Currently he his working on new paintings for upcoming shows and art fairs. There is a tension between wanting to be completely autonomous as an artist on the one hand. On the other hand depending on the economy of that same art world which distracts him from being autonomous. Luckily he is filled with so many new ideas that he doesn’t know where to start. And that’s a problem he has to solve by him self.

Patricia Kaersenhout

Day 2. Cape Town


Our first stop of the day is blank projects

The gallery was founded in 2005 by Jonathan Garnham after his return from Berlin where he had resided for ten years as a practicing sculptor. A few years later in 2008 the gallery moved to its current location in Woodstock near Cape Town’s harbor district. The area has been experiencing progress in recent years and is also home to the cluster of art galleries formed around Stevenson (referred to in an accommodating way as “Big Brother”), including Goodman Gallery and SMAC Gallery all of which we had a chance to visit later during the day. The Woodstock galleries are maintaining good relations and a sense of synergy. In terms of partnerships blank projects also enjoys the loyal patronage and professional exchange with e.g. A4 Arts Foundation, whom we visited yesterday.

The group met up with Catherine Humphries, who gave a tour around the current solo exhibition by the Capetonian multidisciplinary artist Kyle Morland, his fifth with the gallery but first in the new space. Morland has responded to its greater dimensions with three large sculptural works of segmented rhomboid elements. Meticulously designed, the works demonstrate the artist’s preoccupation with industrial aesthetics and modes of production. However, the smooth, white enamel surfaces as well as their curvature and suggestion of movement at the same time assigns them with a sense of playfulness and lightness.

In the adjacent room, Morland has exhibited diptychs consisting of flat templates of mild steel and powdered matte and a series of wall-based sculptures that also hint at the laborious processes and investigations – both material and conceptual – that gave rise to the larger works.

After the tour we had a pleasant conversation with Catherine and other members of the gallery’s staff, who gave us an update on its profile.

Initially, blank was thought of as a non-profit project space, which aimed at offering a platform for emerging artists to develop their work and exhibit; something which was uncommon in Cape Town at the time. Today, the gallery is dealing in African and international contemporary art and while still operating on a relatively small level with a limited number of employees, blank is currently representing 14 artists. It remains their ambition to collaborate closely with a young and energetic group of artists in the effort to build and nurture their careers. A few of these artists were presented in the gallery’s backroom including Turiya Magadlela and Jared Ginsburg.

Rather than considering itself an African gallery as such, blank projects has been expanding its international network of artists, collectors and institutions and is also participating in a greater number of international fairs (Liste, The Armory Show, Frieze London, Art Basel Miami Beach etc.). Nevertheless, they do consider it part of their mission to work for the greater good of art from the African continent.

Since the time of blank´s opening, Cape Town has seen significant changes not only in the gallery scene, where the numbers have increased, but in the entire infrastructure of artists and institutions. The issue of working in the intersections between local and global art worlds seems to be presenting enormous challenges as well as opportunities. And the same could be said about the pressure of presenting artists who make work that is critical of the political situation in South Africa and land appropriation.

Anders Gaardboe Jensen

STEVENSON Gallery in Woodstock
It begins with a mark, the first line, and the immediate. The twisted shape of bacon on the breakfast plate, the smoky acrid Jo’burg morning air, the rushed and chaotic commute from home to studio – everything and nothing goes into that line.


These are the words of Burundi-born artist Serge Alain Nitegeka (*1983), who is currently presenting his solo show Innate Black at the STEVENSON gallery in Cape Town. Next to his paintings – abstract works, reduced to color and geometry – his site-specific installation has transformed the gallery spaces into an architectural structure that contains narrow passages one has to step through sideways or duck under. Based on his own migrant experience, the artist questions in his work the effects of spatial structures on our physical behavior and mental frameworks. A reoccurring theme that, as early as day two of our trip, has been brought up by various art protagonists of Cape Town – a city whose segregating infrastructure remains deeply woven into the social fabric of post-Apartheid society. Also on display at Stevenson Gallery: photographs by Zanele Muholi, hung densely to create a small but powerful visual archive of the LGBTQI community; photographic self-representation as an activist counternarrative.

STEVENSON gallery has been around in Cape Town for 15 years, playing a pivotal role in the South African arts scene. As one of the directors Joost Bosland tells us, due to the long lack of art institutions in Cape Town, commercial spaces took over the role of the institution, often providing the only space where art could be exhibited (also during the Apartheid era, where i.e. the Goodman Gallery just next to STEVENSON supported and exhibited resistance art). STEVENSON gallery, who call themselves a “nerdy gallery”, has been dedicated to promoting South African artists and artists from Africa and its diaspora within the field of contemporary art, further providing contextualization through publishing and granting access to research material on the artists they promote. For a long time, their appearance at international art fairs presented the only place where the works of African artists could be accessed by – and have access to – the rest of the world.

With the major institutions such as Zeitz MOCAA currently transforming the art scene of Cape Town, the mark that stands at the beginning of Serge Alain Nitegeka’s quote turns into a powerful metaphor for the legacy of the country (or continent, even): what first marks have these institutions made in the landscape of (South) Africa; how do they envision their cultural and social responsibilities – and what mark will they leave for the future?

Doris Gassert

“To curate our own experiences and write our own narratives”
Cape Town is right now facing the context of a brand new art scene to consider. Two major institutions just opened in less than a year: Zeitz MOCAA and Norval Foundation. Whereas the first focuses on African contemporary art, the second is situated in between modern and contemporary. Beside this, the Iziko National Gallery (covering the wide history of the country) is also providing a necessary documentation and valorization of South African artworks and is the public institution of the town.

We had the chance to join the directors and founders of several of these institutions in the city to present some of our institutions as well (including Fotomuseum Winterthur, Tent Rotterdam, Mondriaan Fonds, Holstebro Art Museum, Beursschouwburg). Iziko, Zeitz MOCAA and Norval Foundation were also present, plus the AVA (Association for Visual Arts) and its director Mirjam Asmal; as well as Robyn-Leigh Cedras, director of the Rupert Art Museum. Ashraf Jamal, author of the edition “In the World. Essays on Contemporary South African Art” (Skira) was moderating the panel at the end of the presentations. Giving the general tone of the afternoon, Rooksana Omar, CEO of the Iziko Museums of South Africa declared that the discussion would be orientated on the way South Africa is now thinking and proceeding “to curate [their] own experiences and write [their] own narratives”.

For three days, we have been visiting many of the art spaces (museums, galleries, non-profit organizations or collections both private and public) in Cape Town. Since “Iziko” is an isiXhosa word which is translated by “hearth”, the name of the museum both symbolizes “a hub cultural activity, and a central place for gathering South Africa’s diverse heritage”. In this specific frame, the way one can understand this will to organize Africa’s or at least South Africa’s own experiences of curating and narratives, can refer to the complex context the country is facing. Whilst there is a huge interest in African art from the market and the institutions simultaneously, and many African artists living abroad and building their international careers, this really diverse heritage of the country can be seen in different ways. But probably the most appropriate line coming to our mind would be “context is everything”. No matter what are the narratives we will read around African art, or the displays used in those brand new as well as very historical exhibitions spaces we will see, we should pay a really strong attention to the context, rather than trying to refer – even if just in our minds – to the socio-historical and pretty much hierarchical way history of art has been built as a field in the Western countries. “The future is present”, claimed the magazine Art Africa of March 2018, and definitely, South Africa is now building the future of the visual context in the country, if not on the continent.

Olivia Fahmy

Day 1. Cape Town

Institute for Creative Arts
We start our first day in Cape Town with a visit to the ICA, the Institute for Creative Arts, located at the campus of the University of Cape Town. We are welcomed by its director, and curator of the Live Art Festival, Jay Pather, and introduced to Nomusa Makhube, teaching at the Fine Art department, and Nkule Mabasso, director of the Michaelis Galleries. For this report I focus on the first presentation.
The ICA, comprising different academies for the arts, is organized according the conservative UK university system. The challenge Pather identifies is how to get these different academies to speak with each other, use the political potential of multidisciplinarity.
The ICA aims for a shift from having discourse within the frame of decolonial projects, towards a growing understanding of the need and urgency to disseminate these projects so they can be seen. Whilst in the reconciliation project there has been “a lot of hugging, but not much exchange of wealth”, the process of appropriation and re-appropriation is still going on in the context of a topographically severely divided city. In Pathers view this calls for a repositioning of ideas about identity and urges contemporary art to propose ideas and methods for relocating (the) work, in order to create dialogue with the community.
For the ICA this means trying to go outside of/beyond both, the campus and university, and instead of window dressing, aim for more fundamental changes. Like multidisciplinarity in the arts questions conventions of form, the ICA wants to break with the compartmentalized university structure and resist its deeply embedded tenets, to present projects that are developed from artistic and art theoretical, as well as for instance anthropological and economical perspective. It also means, going into the city, and foremost, moving within the city, experimenting with how performance can relate to the different strata of a city and its communities, and being attentive to how audiences engage with the work and with each other. This “curating the city” is based on an itinerant way of being present, that hopefully will be “infective”.

The Live Art Festival has a biennial structure and had its first iteration in 2012. In resonance with the student protests Rhodes must Fall and the Fees must Fall, the festival is placing the body in the front. Currently the fourth edition is taking place. Curious to see some performances in the festival and witness the way they unfold in the city, Patricia Kaersenhout and I decided to attend two performances. We went to see the lecture performance Engaging the Archive: Creative Resistance Through Publication on the aesthetics and performativity of protest publishing by Leila Khan and Nombuso Mathibela.

The presentation took place in a vestibule like space in the Cape Town Central Library. The set up was simple (chairs for the audience, screen, sound system) and the lecture respectfully immersed in the library setting. It was a rich and intelligent report of a group of students that have joined forces to maintain the archive of Dr. Neville Alexander (Wikipedia: “a proponent of a multilingual South Africa and a former revolutionary who spent ten years on Robben Island as a fellow-prisoner of Nelson Mandela”) at The Interim, a space for live music, art and education, as well as to learn from the design and publishing forms and techniques from the past, for their publication series Pathways to Free Education.

Performance Zabebaleka Limbhumbhulu (They Were Running from Bullets) by Qondiswa James

After, we went to the square in front of Cape Town Station where the performance Zabebaleka Limbhumbhulu (They Were Running from Bullets) by Qondiswa James was taking place. On a triangularly formed plan covered with salt, demarcated with cordon tape that was held in place at two corners by bricks, and at the third corner by a drum kit, three performers were kneeling, heads and body covered by undyed cloth. The live drum score had a continuum rhythm, calm but persistent, with the performers initially static, though kneeling is an act (!), making gradually more crawling, shaking movements. At an unannounced moment a fourth male performer entered ‘the arena’, bare feet, proclaiming texts in a language I couldn’t identify. Casually dressed he didn’t overtly distinguish himself from the audience, which made me puzzled for a moment about his ‘status’.

The performance lasted for about an hour, with the audience slowly accumulating and grouping together around the performance in a circle. The general sphere was attentive, in most cases serious and curious, sometimes more ridiculing the performance. At one point a man from the public made his rather provocative entrance, and was gently ushered back by another audience member, the situation was taken care of from within. The rhythm and cadence of the drum score, the movements of the performers slowly evolving and becoming more frenetic, the audience members gradually sitting in their place – at some point there was this magic moment of the performance becoming an organism where performers, onlookers and setting become one breathing body. In front of the triangle three cardboards signs lay on the floor with the respective texts written on them, shouting, begging: “you are building the city” / “why are you not living in the city” / “take back the city”.

Frederique Bergholtz

A4 Arts Foundation, Cape Town
The A4 Arts Foundation
is one of the newly opened institutions in the Cape Town art scene, located in a three-storey warehouse in District Six. Director Josh Ginsberg explains how he endeavors to make a new contribution to the city’s cultural life. He describes how Cape Town’s arts ecology largely revolves around Universities on the one hand and commercial galleries that shape and sell the international narrative of South-African art on the other. The risk within this context (something which will also be voiced by others we meet later) is that artists have to make a leap from student work to the scale and expectations of gallery shows immediately. A4 wants to play a bridging role and help build better support structures for artists. Part of A4s support structure are an openly accessible art library and meeting space downstairs, exhibition spaces upstairs, and a collection as a shared resource.

For emerging artists, A4 aims to function as a lab, where new work can be tested and developed. This concept can be seen at work in the exhibition on view, entitled ‘Parallel Play’, which was inspired by the way children play side by side in the same room, and see each other play. Josh invited a group of artists to work side by side in the gallery space, using it as a shared open studio and testing ground. We see, amongst others, how established artist Jo Ratcliff has been sketching ideas for a retrospective exhibition, models for new work by Kyle Morland, and Bad Paper collective at work on their editions.
Josh sees the shared open studio concept not only as fruitful for artists, but also as a strategy to connect artists with collectors. In a context where there is very little state support for artists, Josh has innovative ideas about how collectors could not only be stimulated to buy artworks but be enticed to be part of the support structure for artists in a wider sense. The gallery as lab and studio could facilitate conversations about the relationships between the artworks and the processes and conditions of arts production. While many (potential) collectors sometimes find art somewhat inaccessible, Josh strongly believes they can easily relate to the business of being an artist. He would like to seize the opportunity to engage collectors from his network in conversations about the need for proper studio and storage space, financial planning, etc, and to develop ideas about patronage in terms of both money and expertise from this wider perspective. The gallery-as-studio is intended as the setting where such conversations can be held.

The A4 foundation was funded through artist, collector and philantropist Wendy Fisher and the Kirsh Family Foundation. A selection from Fisher’s private collection is an integral part of the A4 concept. Adjacent to the library of books on the ground floor, A4 houses a modest storage space with an impressive and inspiring stock of works by South African artists. Josh calls it an ‘art library’, which is accessible by appointment and available as a working collection to the artists and guest curators involved with A4. A brief peek reveals gems by Wim Botha, Moshekwa Langa and many others, David Goldblatt’s iconic image of the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement and a deeply moving photographs by Santu Mofokeng of an improvised church ceremony on a commuter train, made in the apartheid period, when black citizens were forced to spend so much time traveling from their segregated townships to their work location that they had to carve out the spaces for the important rituals of life in these ways.
A4 Arts Foundation has been welcomed as an alternative in the Cape Town arts scene. Yet the connection with the Kirsh family’s capital has also led to a controversy, because of its apparent historical entwinement with the apartheid economy and current connection with Israeli politics against the Palestinians. This controversy seems to point to a question that became acute for A4, but in some way pertains to many of the endeavors in the Cape Town artworld (and elsewhere, for that matter) enabled by private benefactors and tainted capital: can money rooted in questionable politics and economies be rerouted to make a difference?While some artists have decided to keep their distance from A4, some of the institutions we meet during the week do confirm the important role A4 is playing. At Blank gallery, we recognize the huge sculptures by Kyle Morland, which we had seen as sketches and models in A4’s ‘Parallel Play’. Blank’s team confirms how A4 is functioning as an important and new kind of patron for the gallery’s artists, not only by buying risky genres of art for its collection, but also by fronting money for artistic production and experimentation.

District Six Museum
District Six Museum
next to A4 is an institution that plays a bridging role in a very different way. It is a pity that both neighbours do not seem to be affiliated. In comparison to the contemporary arts scene that is currently taking shape, the District Six Museum seems rather under-resourced, yet it is deeply significant in the way it tells the gripping, moving and thought-provoking story of District Six. This area has become a symbol of the racial spatial politics of apartheid, formalized in the 1960s in the Group Areas Act, which banned ‘black’ and ‘coloured’ groups from living in ‘white’ areas, forcing them (amongst others) to commute long distances to work, providing they had the proper ‘Pass’ that allowed them to enter their white-owned workplace in the first place. Cape Town was the model city of apartheid’s spatial politics. When District Six was declared a white area in 1966, more than 60.000 citizens were forcefully removed and relocated. Their homes were bulldozered.

The museum sketches this violent politics and its impact on the district’s geography in its entrance area, but its strength is that its real focus is not the white apartheid regime and the ways the regime victimized (and continues to affect) unimaginable masses of black and coloured citizens. Instead of affording the apartheid regime the status of the main subject, the museum gives central stage to the cultural life that existed in District Six before its erasure. Shops, restaurants, dubbeldecker busses and tramlines, hairdressers that would whip up the latest hairdos so local clubbers could go out in style, lots of live music and a beautiful cinema form but a glimpse of this. It is the focus on this vibrant culture that, at least in my limited perspective, hits home hard. I am amazed about the existence of this rich cultural life. And I am confronted with my own lack of knowledge and inability to imagine it before I saw the evidence. This too is the lasting impact of racist logic and its nasty power to make negative affects ‘stick’ (in Sara Ahmed’s words) for so long: the deeply ingrained racist preconception that a black modern culture could not have existed in such a place and time – a preconception that exactly buys into everything the white suprematist argumentation of apartheid would have the world believe. This important museum does not have the internationally renowned art that the new Zeitz MOCAA and other arts institutions are showcasing, nor anything near their budgets and prestige, but it tells its story with (often anonymous) community art, guided tours and conversations, and especially with photographs, drawn from the private albums of District Six inhabitants. It is important to know (as professor Premesh Lalu later tells us) that these pictures were not assembled as a mere museological project: they were the evidence the evicted inhabitants brought to the table when after 2003 they were allowed to reclaim their land.

Greatmore Street Studios

Greatmore Street Studios is located in two former homes in Woodstock, on a road that once formed the border between the segregates ‘white’ and ‘coloured’ zones. It was founded in 1998 as a studio facility and workshop programme for artists across the divisions of background, training and generation. In a context where government funding for individual artists is very limited, Greatmore Street Studios has managed to raise funding to offer twelve sponsored studios. South-African artists can apply for 3-year residencies; artists from elsewhere can apply for a 3-month stay. Artists are selected on the basis of their portfolio and motivation. Not making academic training or familiarity with a certain discourse a criterion, has been a deliberate strategy to welcome artists from a range of backgrounds and to include self-taught artists, who did not have the privilege of formal training or have found their artistic voice through other routes. This inclusive approach was crucial at the studios’ inception and remains crucial today.

Maurice Mbikayi’s studio

One of the 3-year residents we meet is Maurice Mbikayi (born in Kinshasa, now based in Cape Town), whose amazing installations and performance photographs involving costumes sculpted out of keyboard keys, reflect on technological advancement, exploitative labour and digital aliens.

Greatmore Street Studios not only offers studio facilities but also a programme of two-week workshops to residents and others, allowing artists to meet and learn from each other, and to develop a range of tools, from technical skills to how to document or theorize work. The two-week model had a strategic function during the international boycott of South Africa, when it was difficult for South-African artists to engage in international exchange. Two weeks were long enough for a productive workshop, and short enough to avoid attention: by the time authorities would realise what was going on, the foreign artists would already have returned home.

Founding member Jill Trappler and current managing director Loyiso Qanya explain how, like it’s sister organisation Bag Factory in Joburg, the studios find their origins in the activities of British businessman Robert Loder. He supported black artists and mixed-race venues since the late 1950s, at a time when black artists were prohibited access to education and exhibitions. With Anthony Caro, he also founded Triangle Arts Trust, an international network of artist-led workshops and residencies, which started in the 1980s New York and found its first spin-off in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Jill tells us that Loder’s engagement with South African art was strongly influenced by his encounter with anti-apartheid activist, priest Trevor Huddleston, and that his philosophy was to redirect the money he earned in the oil and mining economy to foster African arts. As part of this endeavor, he bought properties in Cape Town and Joburg and made them available to Greatmore Street Studios and Bag Factory for a symbolic rent. The Triangle Network, in which both organisations take part, has now become a global network, including artist-led organisations across Africa, South Asia, Australia and the UK, with Gasworks in London as the network’s main hub. Greatmore Street Studios also connects with its immediate surroundings through engagement with local schools and a ‘Great Walk and More’ festival.

Centre for the Periphery
Across the road an important new organisation is building its home: the Centre for the Periphery, an initiative of the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of Western Cape. It will house a Laboratory of Kinetic Objects, The Handspring Puppet Company and a residency programme for artists and academics. And it will also provide a home to the archival collections of the University, which include the most important documents, campaign materials, artworks and films relating to the Contra Apartheid struggle – crucial collections, director and UWC professor Premesh Lalu tells us, to revisit, study and make available for the public in the current struggle to build a democratic public sphere in South Africa.

Anke Bangma


Our first day in Cape Town ended with a stunning tour of Zeitz MOCAA – the record setting and truly jaw dropping museum, showcasing exclusively 21st century African art. The museum opened at Cape Town’s Waterfront area only one year ago, as the continent’s largest art institution and world’s largest museum dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and its Diaspora. All set in British architect Thomas Heatherwick’s impressive industrial blade runner take on a marked but disused 1921 grain silo. Once used to redistribute south africa’s grain; today divided into nine floors (!), hosting 100 galleries (!). Wau, indeed!

The museum’s collection is centred around the private collection of German business tycoon and avid art collector Jochen Zeitz (known for instance as the former CEO of Puma sportswear).
He allegedly purchased more than 80 artworks at the 2013 Venice biennale, counting the entire Angolese pavilion, which won that year’s golden lion for best pavilion.
Many of these works incl. the pavilion are now part of the Zeitz MOCAA, matching the museum’s district profile: all collection works are from 2000-2018 and all works are by African and African diaspora artists.

(No smartphone photos do the building justice, so while I add some here for authenticity (I was there!), I recommend you all to find professional photos online as well as video talks and walk throughs online.)

We were met by Director and Chief Curator Azu Nwagbogu and Curator Tandazani Dhlakamat who gave us a nuanced introduction to the institution’s many current programmes and its ambitious plans for the future.

One such future plan is a bus transporting youth and children from and to the townships as well as an entire exhibition directed at children as the primary audience group.


Image text: Zeitz MOCAA also hosts a curatorial “laboratory” currently focussing on LGBTQIS, aiming to provide both a safe space and a reference library. Here Curator Tandazani Dhlakamat is introducing the project and Swazi artist Banele Khoza’s work.

To be continued…

List of artists in the Zeitz collection

Ane Bulow