African art galleries you need to visit in Cape Town

interseXions is a multimedia approach to engaging on the topics of sex work and transgender
women. Picture: Adriaan Roets

interseXions is a multimedia approach to engaging on the topics of sex work and transgender women. Picture: Adriaan Roets

At the Iziko South African National Art Gallery, you don’t have to duck tourists’ selfie sticks: it’s quiet and serene.

Art districts play a significant role in showcasing great contemporary art, but if you’ve opened the arts section of a magazine or newspaper the last few months you’ve probably spotted pictures of Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art in Cape Town’s tourist-heavy Silo District.

The current exhibition includes The Rooms of Ballenesque, by Roger Ballen, the man who inspired much of Die Antwoord’s aesthetic during their rise to global fame, to LGBTQIA+ by Swaziland-born artist Banele Khoza in The Curatorial Lab, a multidisciplinary and experimental space that explores new ways of curation and its methodologies.

There is also a space for under-represented topics or issues. Khoza’s work is the first project that examines gay rights in southern Africa at the museum.

The Zeitz Mocca opts for these kinds of exhibitions as it’s a public, not-for-profit, contemporary art museum that collects, preserves, researches and exhibits 21st century art from Africa and the diaspora.

The Rooms of Ballenesque has works exuding repressed emotions. Picture: Adriaan Roets

It’s housed in a redeveloped 57m-high grain silo built in 1921 that has also been turned into a piece of architectural art with angular domes and impressive views of Table Mountain in the back and the harbour next to it. It holds the biggest collection of contemporary art in Africa. Added to the R500 million that went into the development of Zeitz MOCAA, this is art investment on a grand scale.

Since opening last September, 70 073 people have visited the museum, 35 005 were free entrants.

Free or reduced price entry is offered to under-18s every day, anybody with an African passport on Wednesday from 10am to 1pm, on museum nights from 5pm to 10pm and on the first Friday of every month from 4pm to 9pm it’s half-price. Excluding these times entry is a steep R180 per adult.

But that doesn’t discourage the crowds. During a visit two weeks ago during Cape Town’s winter low season, the museum was remarkably full, with tourists lining up to enter the halls. The same tourists who probably wouldn’t make the three-kilometre trip to the Iziko South African National Art Gallery, where for only R30 one can see exhibitions that have as much impact with contemporary art a seminal feature.

T. Zeitz Mocaa is now Africa’s premiere contemporary art spot. Picture: Adriaan Roets

Currently, there is an exhibition by Robert A Hamblin. It’s centred within Hamblin’s photographic images, voice and video installations pertaining to sex work in South Africa, in particular work with transgender women (male to female) who sell sex.

Using these mediums, Hamblin intersects his own gender transition with the experiences of black transgender sex workers in Cape Town and Kimberley. Developed over five years, it consists of three series of work: The Sistaaz Hood, Diamond Town Girls and interseXion.

It engages with the long-running debate on the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa and deeply invests visitors in these women’s lives. From a haunting installation featuring a lone street light, to a short, autobiographical account of one of the women’s first nights on the streets and her encounters with drugs, it approaches sex workers in a way that allows them to be beautiful, regardless of society’s ongoing misrepresentation of them.

In the current portraits exhibition there’s an oil painting of a Muslim boy and next to it the anomalies of colonisation in Africa is on display in an exhibit called The Power and Pleasure of Breeding, featuring the gallery’s collection of Old Masters paintings.

The difference is that at the Iziko South African National Art Gallery, you don’t have to duck selfie sticks as tourists document their time in the city and there are no loud Americans trying to decipher the meaning behind work exploring displacement. It’s quiet (just don’t take a picture with a DSLR or a guard will quickly break the silence) and more serene. With fewer people and a lower entrance fee, one tends to linger longer.

interseXions at the Iziko South African National Gallery. Picture: Adriaan Roets

Another hall is dedicated to the 50-year relationship with the Friends of the Iziko South African National Gallery in an exhibition entitled Friends50. It’s on until November 4.

The exhibition highlights selections from over 300 works, which form part of the gallery’s permanent collections, which were acquired with the support of the group over the past five decades. It highlights the role they played in acquiring work by then unacknowledged black artists during the apartheid era.

Purchases that were funded include works by Azaria Mbatha, Allina Ndebele, Linda Nolutshungu and others associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church Art and Craft Centre at Rorke’s Drift, KwaZulu-Natal.

The group has supported the gallery’s policy of addressing the underrepresentation of young, black artists in its collections, with notable examples being the purchase of major sculptural works by the acclaimed Mary Sibande, Gerald Machona and Maurice Mbikayi.

For more information on both museums and to see the incredible exhibitions both offer visit Zeits Mocaa or Iziko Museums.

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