food / travel

MOCAA: This Cape Town Museum Is Africa's Answer To The MoMA

Africa’s largest museum is set to open in Cape Town next month, backed by a former Puma CEO and designed by a star British architect. It is not without its critics.

MOCAA, the South African Art Museum opening on September 22, 2017
MOCAA, the South African Art Museum opening on September 22, 2017
Christian Putsch

CAPE TOWN — The enormous but forgotten cereal silo in the heart of Cape Town's harbor was once hailed as Sub-Saharan Africa's tallest building. But it has risen from its figurative ashes over the past four years, and the gigantic 116 cement silos, whose contents once fed thousands of people, have been redesigned for a different purpose: art.

The star British architect Thomas Heatherwick chose to gut the entire building, while also designing the atrium to resemble the inside of a wheat kernel. The museum itself, as well as rooms dedicated to performances and cultural education, will be housed on 9,500 square meters.

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) is Africa's long overdue answer to New York's MoMA or London's Tate Modern and the international art scene is eagerly awaiting its planned inauguration on September 22.

Art and business

Jochen Zeitz, 54, who was Puma's youngest ever CEO, helped to bring the sporting goods and sneaker company back into the black by, among other things, sponsoring 14 African national football teams. Zeitz has a ranch in Kenya, and has spent much of his time in Africa over the last few years since his retirement from Puma in 2012. As an investor and member of various management boards, he tries to promote sustainable development and support cultural initiatives.

"The role of art collector does not actually quite suit me," says Zeitz. Instead, his eye for gaps in the market, be it in business or art, better explains his current project.

Jochen Zeitz, former CEO of Puma Photo: David Ebener/ZUMA

A growing cultural scene in Cape Town over the last few years has often resulted in some of the best art being exported to the Biennales and museums in Europe or the U.S.. "We finally want to make it possible for the art to be available here," he says.

One of the largest art collection in Africa

Zeitz, together with Mark Coetzee, the director of the MOCAA, started one of the largest modern art collections on the continent only nine years ago, buying thousands of works of art, sometimes entire exhibitions.

Most of the art works were stored in a depot, as they made plans for the future. "From the very beginning, the purpose was to find a central home for the collection," says Zeitz.

Criticism regarding this wholesale approach was, of course, unavoidable. The art critique Matthew Blackman wrote in 2015 that a museum for African art, furnished by a German collector, designed by a British architect and led by a white South African director does not really have much to do with South Africa any longer.

Zeitz doesn't dispute the spirit of such criticism but highlights the many positive real-life reactions to the museum, particular from artists themselves. The collection will be available to the museum for the duration of his lifetime or until 2037, whichever comes first. In addition to this, Zeitz also funds the museum's educational programs and new acquisitions which has earned him the respect of the African art scene.

The institution will give Africa's art scene a huge boost.

The MOCAA is now in the last stages of installing the art works, nearly 30% of the paintings have been hung across the six floors. Mark Coetzee is visibly proud of the work put into the museum and states that the art works are "political with every fiber of their being, with every brush stroke."

One of these works is to be seen in a carefully lit room, depicting 197 red bricks, hung at eye level and suspended from the ceiling with a distance of 30 to 50 centimeters. Those who walk between the bricks will notice that the path becomes narrower and narrower as you go. It is South African Kendell Geers' reminder of the anti-Apartheid fight, when activists threw bricks from motorway bridges onto cars of the representatives of the regime.

Another artist, whose work will be displayed here, joins us for the tour. 34 year old Nandipha Mntambo from Swaziland says that "the institution will give Africa's art scene a huge boost." Still, she does not spare criticism: "Not every art work is related to the continent and its cultural heritage," Mntambo says, adding a dose of skepticism about Coetzee's laboriously highlighted connections of the art to society.

Freeing art works from the African clichés

The brilliantly designed building itself may provide the art works with the chance to free themselves from the African clichés heaped upon them over the last few years. The museum budget of 33 million euros was provided by the Victoria&Alfred Waterfront, an unprecedented investment in the African contemporary cultural scene. But unlike in any major European museum, you will find that a luxury hotel has been allocated the space in the upper stories of the building.

Inside MOCAA Photo: Zeitz MOCAA Facebook page

Nonetheless, the atrium remains the heart and absolute masterpiece of the museum. Its exciting architecture is meant to eliminate the paralysing effect of contemporary art and fulfill Zeitz's wish that people from all strata of society will feel at ease here. But that is not going to be an easy task to achieve.

Adults will pay 180 Rand, roughly 12 euros, entry fee, which is admittedly cheaper than tickets to comparable museums in Europe, but well beyond the daily income of most South Africans. So visitors with a passport from an African nation will be granted free entry Wednesday mornings and 50% off the normal ticket price on Friday afternoons.

As its opening nears, the MOCAA has become a hot topic of conversation among the growing middle class of South Africa. Cape Town is one of the most important cultural hubs in Africa, with some 10 million international visitors each year. The museum expects 24,000 visitors in its opening week alone.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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