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Cape Town gallery showcasing modern African art opens

Published on 22/09/2017

Africa's largest museum dedicated to the continent's contemporary art opened to the public in Cape Town on Friday, becoming the region's most significant new cultural space in decades.

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is housed in a clutch of abandoned grain silos at the V&A Waterfront that have been transformed with honeycomb lattice windows reflecting the ocean and Table Mountain.

Its main backer is Jochen Zeitz, a former chief executive of sportswear company Puma, and many of the museum’s pieces are from his personal collection.

“Some of the greatest talents in visual arts come from Africa and what a privilege it is for me to support these artists… Today is one of the high points of my life,” he said at the opening.

Anti-apartheid icon, former archbishop Desmond Tutu blessed the opening ceremony and the South African Youth choir sang and danced to mark the event.

“It’s just so fantastic. This beautiful, beautiful art museum,” said Tutu, 85, who also danced with the choir.

“You warm the cockles of my heart — and I don’t know what cockles are.

“Thank you all of you who have made this creation possible.”

Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille called for art lovers worldwide to add the museum to their bucket lists.

“From the Cape to Cairo we are all Africans… this today is the confidence that the world is showing in Africa,” she said.

The journey to this week’s opening began over a decade ago when the owners of the V&A Waterfront, a popular tourist and shopping destination, set out to rejuvenate a neglected corner of the harbour.

At stake was the future of the hulking grain elevator made up of 118 separate storage compartments that had long since fallen into disuse and filled with pigeon droppings.

After years of extensive remodelling, the silos themselves are now a work of art, their bare concrete cylinders contrasting starkly with the geometric, glass-clad office blocks nearby.

“They were filled with quantities of pigeon poo that I’ve never seen in my life… There were square tubes, round tubes, cruciform tubes, all to store grain,” said architect Thomas Heatherwick.