See also post #30
The First Contemporary Art Museum in Africa Is Run by White Men
NPQ (Nonprofit Quarterly) has written about the lack of diversity on the boards of U.S. nonprofits—a problem that is getting worse, according to the latest BoardSource report. And we have also written about a persistent diversity problem at this country’s museums. But this story about the new and first contemporary art museum in South Africa shows us how absurd this problem can become.
In Africa, this trend intersects with a long history of colonialism.
Though black people were barred from entering a museum in South Africa until 1994, when Apartheid officially ended, this month—September 22nd to be exact—the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (ZMOCAA) opens in Cape Town. According to Antwaun Sargent, writing for Artsy, it is “the first public institution to be devoted solely to contemporary African art (and art of the Diaspora) on the entire, 54-country continent.”
The 11-story building is the result of the conversion of Cape Town’s grain silo complex, comprising 42 silos. For almost 50 years, it was the tallest building in sub-Saharan Africa and played a key role in “the movement of the country’s goods ideas, and people around the world.” From this “tight network of tubed silos” comes a post-industrial, 100,000-square-foot museum featuring “100 galleries, a rooftop garden, and six research centers dedicated to Art Education, Curatorial Excellence, Performative Practice, Photography, the Moving Image and Costume Institute.” Sargent describes it as “a truly awe-inspiring, concrete-cave-like, architectural wonder.”
The museum’s inaugural exhibitions feature 300 works of art across 11 shows by the leading artists in African art, mostly black and from across the continent. They include South African performance artist and photographer Gabrielle Goliath; South African sculptor, videographer, and photographer Nandipha Mntambo; Tunisian photographer Mouna Karray; Malawi-born filmmaker Samson Kambalu; Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui; British-Nigerian sculptor Yinka Shonibare; South African photographer (visual activist) Zanele Muholi; Soweto-born photographer, performer, filmmaker, and sculptor Mohau Modisakeng; and Kenyan sculptor and painter Cyrus Kabiru.
Zeitz MOCAA. Architectural rendering.
An Open Letter to Jochen Zeitz and Mark Coetzee
My first concern is that there is still only one person who is selecting the work for the ZMOCAA and that selections are being made without broader consultation. This is problematic for several reasons. One is that it goes against all museums’ “best practice.” Museums of this nature (as opposed to private collections) have rigorous acquisitions policies and review processes. Not only do they consult with the curatorial staff, but would have an acquisitions committee, which would include academics and critics. The reason for this is that, as you well know, museums by their very nature codify and canonize. As much as museums include, they are also involved in very complicated and contentious issues around exclusion. In a country and continent whose very history is bound to notions of exclusion, the ZMOCAA will have to be extremely careful as to how it codifies and identifies “Contemporary Art Africa.” This is a task that one man can simply not do.
…Agnew put it this way: “When researching Zeitz, there is certainly some difficulty in ignoring the overarching amount of white male voices present in the construction of the museum.” She notes that the building was designed by Heatherwick, a white British man; founded on the collection of Zeitz, a white German man; and is being run by Coetzee, a white South African man—all in a country that is nearly 80 percent black.
“One is reminded,” Agnew writes in a profile of the museum, “of Sartre’s words about how the ‘white man has enjoyed the privilege of seeing without being seen for the past 3,000 years.’”
…The appearance of the museum being yet another white power grab in Africa is further exacerbated by the fact that the museum’s five trustees are white and the advisory board is co-chaired by David Green—the white British CEO of the V&A Waterfront, who funded a large part of the museum’s 500 million rand ($38 million) construction cost—and Jochen Zeitz himself.