A whole new world for art lovers in Cape Town

The city is the world’s latest art hot spot, drawing visitors from all over the globe with attractions like the Zeitz Mocaa

28 June 2018 - 07:34
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Up, up and away: The atrium vault of the Zeitz Mocaa
Up, up and away: The atrium vault of the Zeitz Mocaa
Image: Iwan Baan

A hike up Table Mountain, the floral fantasy of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, watching the sunset from Signal Hill, enjoying the passing parade of people from all over the world at the V&A Waterfront, the stunning views from Cape Point and Chapman’s Peak Drive – these are among the many incredible experiences on offer in Cape Town.

But the city is also fast becoming the world’s newest art hot spot. For art aficionados, there are now attractions beyond the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern in London and the Louvre in Paris. Africa is finding its feet among the art capitals of the world – and not just because the traditional crafts that most people associate with the continent.

What characterises the art scene in Cape Town?

As with so many other forms of cultural expression, the art from Africa depicts the human experience of this region: people’s responses to colonial history, racism and other forms of bigotry, both institutional and unofficial, and the clash of progress with traditional practices and cultures.  

These elements largely characterise the works of art on display in local art exhibitions, particularly at the two new additions to Cape Town’s art scene: the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (Mocaa) and the Norval Foundation Gallery.

The Zeitz Mocaa opened its doors to the public in September last year, while the Norval Foundation began welcoming visitors from the end of April this year. Both are galleries of international standard and showcase the work of artists recognised globally as well as those with the potential to make their mark on the world stage.


Commentary on society abounds in the works showcased by these galleries. Many of the installations will leave the visitor with troubled thoughts – this is art geared to make one think and to challenge one’s own perceptions.

While the Zeitz Mocaa focuses on contemporary African art, the Norval collection incorporates a longer period. Its Re/discovery and Memory installation showcases the works of talented artists from the 1950s. Among them are artists whose careers did not flourish at the time because of South Africa’s apartheid system, which denied people of colour the attention they would otherwise have enjoyed.

Sixty years later, South Africans are finally able to acknowledge the skill of sculptors and artists such as Sydney Kumalo and Ezrom Legae.

This installation also focuses on the effects of migration due to political events: Serge Alain Nitegeka’s story of his flight from civil war in Burundi and genocide in Rwanda highlights the disruption caused by events beyond one’s control.

Similarly, Edoardo Villa, the Italian prisoner of war who remained in South Africa after the Second World War and became a world-renowned sculptor, explained: “I did not decide myself to come to South Africa; somebody else decided for me!” That decision was to change the course of Villa’s life and his artistic career.

Architecture of the buildings

Both galleries also offer something spectacular for those with an interest in architecture. The Zeitz Mocaa, for which architect Thomas Heatherwick converted a disused grain silo into a high-profile art institution, is of particular interest.

The Norval Foundation building, which contains one of the largest private art collections in South Africa, was designed to take account of the sensitive wetland surrounding it. An integral part of the construction project was to create a sculpture garden between the building and the wetland, which is home to a colony of endangered western leopard toads. It is an example of the successful integration of construction and development with the rehabilitation of damaged ecosystems.

These galleries are about to kick-start Africa’s journey into the global art scene. Travellers from all over the globe with an interest in art can now tick off several items on their bucket lists: a trip to one of the world’s most popular destinations while enjoying the best art from Africa.

And, for those who are members of Marriott Rewards, a trip like this could be one of the many benefits offered by the world’s largest loyalty programme. Not yet a member? Join now.

This article was paid for by Protea Hotels.

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