New contemporary art museum shows off complex identities of Africa

New contemporary art museum shows off complex identities of Africa


WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The first contemporary art
museum in all of Africa opened recently in Cape Town, South Africa. It features artists from across the continent,
exhibiting modern expressions from a diverse range of voices. Jeffrey Brown has the story. JEFFREY BROWN: It’s a contemporary face of
Africa captured in art created since the millennium, the first of its kind on the continent. The new Zeitz Museum overlooks the Atlantic
Ocean on the waterfront of Cape Town, South Africa, a spectacular setting in an old and
long-abandoned grain silo converted by British architect Thomas Heatherwick, who maintained
the industrial feel and shapes of its past. Inside, a giant atrium features a large sculpture
of a mythical dragon-like bird by South African artist Nicholas Hlobo,a grand new space, with
grand ambition. Mark Coetzee, a South African who’s worked
in Europe and the U.S., is the museum’s founding director. MARK COETZEE, Founding Director, Zeitz Museum:
Part of the mission of the museum is really to reclaim the storytelling of our continent,
of our countries, of our cities and of our personal lived experience, where we can also
contribute to the way that we want to be seen by the world, the way that we want to be recorded. JEFFREY BROWN: Spread across seven floors
and more than 80 galleries, paintings, photography, video and more by artists from throughout
the continent and the African diaspora, including several African-American artists. One large exhibition features sculptures of
human forms made of cowhide by 34-year-old Nandipha Mntambo, who was born in Swaziland
and raised in South Africa. The unusual choice of material, she says,
was a reaction to more traditional approaches she first encountered in school. NANDIPHA MNTAMBO, Artist: Because of our history
of apartheid, there was a push to make me work in woodcarving or in clay because I suppose
that’s what the lecturers at the time understood other black people to have worked in before. JEFFREY BROWN: Today, her work is sold to
collectors abroad and, increasingly, she told me in her Johannesburg studio, to a new generation
of Africans interested in and able to buy art. Still, she says: NANDIPHA MNTAMBO: I have had quite a complex
relationship with the word African art, because… JEFFREY BROWN: And what it is, huh? NANDIPHA MNTAMBO: Yes. The reality is that globalization, travel,
how we have basically, even through television, been overly exposed to American and Europe
over the years, I think, has created a situation where I don’t know that there is a collective
understanding of what is African art or what being African actually is. JEFFREY BROWN: These complex identities are
on display throughout the new museum, including the collage-like photography of Thania Petersen. THANIA PETERSEN, Artist: People look at me
and they don’t perceive me as being African. And then I always feel like I need to explain,
actually, I am, because Africa and South Africa is a very diverse, multicultural and modern
society. JEFFREY BROWN: Petersen is a Cape Town-based
artist, a product of South Africa’s melting pot. I’m looking around the room, and you’re in
most of these. There is an element of kind of, look at me. THANIA PETERSEN: Absolutely, because it’s
about creating visibility, you know, visibility for people who are unseen, and people who
are tired of being exoticized, who are tired of being photographed for, you know, I don’t
know, archives. (LAUGHTER) JEFFREY BROWN: The new museum has garnered
enormous attention, but it’s also raised important questions about what it means to have an institution
like this one in this particular city at the very tip of Africa. Apartheid era separations are still present:
more affluent, whiter enclaves downtown and along the oceanfront surrounded a short drive
away by impoverished townships and shack communities. It’s a reality Cape Town Mayor Patricia de
Lille, herself a veteran of the liberation struggle, contends with daily. PATRICIA DE LILLE, Mayor of Cape Town: Certainly,
it’s not just Cape Town who is struggling with the legacy of apartheid, where all the
good things were on the white side, and the black and colored people were excluded. We are building that inclusive city, and the
museum will help with that. JEFFREY BROWN: How does it help? PATRICIA DE LILLE: It will help because no
longer will art be the exclusive domain of only rich people that can afford to exhibit
the art, but also can afford to enter an art museum. JEFFREY BROWN: That goes to another question
being asked of the Zeitz: Who exactly is it for? The museum was privately funded, at some $38
million, by the company that owns the V&A Waterfront, an expanding tourism and shopping
development where the museum now sits. A small luxury hotel is housed in the same
building. There’s free admission for those under 18,
and school groups are coming by the busload. Wednesdays are free to citizens of all African
countries. But regular admission, 180 rand, more than
$13, is beyond the means of much of the population, and everyone is acutely aware of the access
issue, including the man whose collection of African art provided the basis for the
museum, German businessman and philanthropist Jochen Zeitz. JOCHEN ZEITZ, Philanthropist: The key is that
we are accessible for everyone. The key is that we have education programs
that actually reach out into the townships, into the communities, that we’re deeply embedded
into the community. It’s going to become a place that is socially
accepted by everyone. JEFFREY BROWN: You know the history of outsiders
coming in. And you’re an outsider. You’re a European coming in. JOCHEN ZEITZ: Well, I’m not the one who’s
speaking. I’m creating a platform I’m supporting. JEFFREY BROWN: It remains to be seen how much
a museum can bridge historic divisions. But for South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga,
utopian visions is what art is for. His work has reached audiences in Europe and
the U.S. and now has a permanent place in his own country. ATHI-PATRA RUGA, Artist: I have 33 years of
not having a museum in the townships. I grew up in the townships in the Eastland. And there was very little art to look at. You had to travel quite a bit to go look at
art or actually go to a library that’s decent. So, has much changed? I think that I deal with that in my art when
I actually work with the idea of re-imagining a new world. For me, access is the most important currency,
you know? And I think that education opens up access. I think that imagination can act like — give
you access to wider ways of looking at things. JEFFREY BROWN: Access and ownership of identity. Museum director Mark Coetzee puts it this
way: MARK COETZEE: Africans want to define themselves
according to their terms. They want to say, it’s much more complex than
you imagine. That’s what I’m going to mark this institution
on. Who defines the language? Who’s the author of the voice? Who’s the participant and the consumer of
the voice? JEFFREY BROWN: It’s a lot to ask of a museum,
with much riding on the outcome. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jeffrey Brown
in Cape Town, South Africa.

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