THE LARGEST CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUM in Africa has hired a new leader. The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) announced the appointment of Koyo Kouoh, who will serve as executive director and chief curator of the Cape Town, South Africa, museum. An international curator and cultural producer, Kouoh brings two decades of experience to the position. The appointment is big news. Throughout the international art world, few women run major art museums. Kouoh begins her new role May 6.

“Koyo is an outstanding leader and a passionate visionary who has an exemplary competence and extended network in all capacities of institutional operations with the arts in Africa and globally. She will be invaluable to Zeitz MOCAA in writing a progressive vision for the museum,” Jochen Zeitz and David Green, co-founders and co-chairmen of Zeitz MOCAA, said in a statement.

 


Cameroonian-born, Dakar-based Curator Koyo Kouoh is joining Zeitz MOCAA as executive director and chief curator. | Courtesy Zeitz MOCAA

 

Kouoh’s experience spans Africa, Europe, and the United States and includes exhibition planning, public programming and publishing. She founded RAW Material Company in Dakar, Senegal, in 2008. Dedicated to art, knowledge and society, the institution supports African and international artists and curators, providing critical education, exhibition space, public programs, and a residency program.

In addition, she curates the educational and artistic programming for the London and New York editions of the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair.

As an independent exhibition maker, Kouoh has organized shows at institutions around the world. Recent examples include “Body Talk: Feminism, Sexuality and the Body in the Works of Six African Women Artists” at Wiels in Brussels (2015) and “Saving Bruce Lee: African and Arab Cinema in the era of Soviet Cultural Diplomacy,” which she co-organized at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow and Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin (2015 and 2018).

She has also served as a curatorial adviser for Documenta 12 (2007) and 13 (2012). Prior to establishing RAW Material Company, she held cultural affairs posts at the Goethe Institut, the Goree Institute, and the U.S. Embassy in Senegal.

At the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh, Kouoh is currently presenting “Dig Where You Stand.” After mining the collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art, she mounted an exhibition within an exhibition designed to “reflect on the institution, its history, and colonialism.”

Kouoh is joining Zeitz MOCAA after a challenging year at the museum. The previous executive director left in the wake of misconduct allegations. In a statement, Gavin Jantjes, chair of the Zeitz MOCAA Curatorial Advisory Group, gave Kouoh a ringing endorsement:

“I have known and worked with Koyo for many years on projects related to the contemporary art of Africa and much more. I believe that she will be a huge contributor to the further development of Zeitz MOCAA as an institution, as her knowledge of the continent’s contemporary players contributing to Africa’s cultural history will help the museum with its core intentions of being a major voice in the field of visual culture. The Trustees have made a bold and daring choice that indicates the museum’s ambitions.”

“The Trustees have made a bold and daring choice that indicates the museum’s ambitions.”
— Gavin Jantjes, Zeitz MOCAA Curatorial Advisory Group


Zeitz MOCAA opened in September 2017 on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa. | Photo by Iwan Baan, Courtesy of Zeitz MOCAA

 

ZEITZ MOCAA WAS ESTABLISHED less than two years ago by Zeitz, the German entrepreneur and former CEO of Puma and Green, CEO of the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Centered around Zeitz’s private art collection, the museum focuses on 21st century art from Africa and the diaspora.

His collection features work by black and white artists, including Jane Alexander, Edson Chagas, Kudzanai Chiurai, Godfried Donkor, Marlene Dumas, Nicholas Hlobo, Rashid Johnson, Glenn Ligon, Julie Mehretu, Nandipha Mntambo, Chris Ofili, Penny Siopis, Hank Willis Thomas, Kehinde Wiley, and Sue Williamson. The museum has said the Zeitz collection is on “lifetime loan (for a minimum of 20 years),” while the institution builds up its holdings.

An impressive space designed by British architect Thomas Heatherwick, the museum is housed in a converted grain silo on the V & A Waterfront. Described on its website as a public, nonprofit institution, at 100,000-square-feet, the museum cost 500 million rand ($38 million). Boasting more than 100 galleries on nine floors, the museum was touted in a Guardian headline as “Africa’s Tate Modern.” Tickets to visit the museum are 190 rand ($13.50).

Artists Wangechi Mutu and Isaac Julien are on the museum’s 13-member board of advisors, along with Albie Sachs, the human rights activist and former judge on the Constitutional Court of South Africa who helped build a formidable art collection at the public court.

Zeitz MOCAA opened with much fanfare in September 2017, garnering widespread news coverage. Then in May 2018, executive director and chief curator Mark Coetzee stepped down amid accusations of “professional misconduct” toward staff, as described at the time by the museum and unconfirmed. South African-born Coetzee previously directed arts initiative at Puma and served as director of the Rubell Family Collection in Miami.

Since his departure, Lagos-based Azu Nwagbogu has been acting chief curator. The founder and director of LagosPhoto, the international photo festival, Nwagbogu was serving as curator-at-large for Zeitz MOCAA’s Roger Ballen Foundation Centre for Photography, when he was moved temporarily into the leadership position. According to the museum’s statement, Nwagbogu will be “working alongside Kouoh during the transition and handover period, and will continue to work closely with the institution going forward.”

Kouoh’s appointment begins a new chapter at the museum. “I am thrilled to be joining Zeitz MOCAA in an executive and curatorial capacity at this crucial time in the museum’s development,” Kouoh said in a statement. “It is an unprecedented opportunity to create a strong home for the production, exhibition, discussion and collection of contemporary art in Africa.” CT

 

FIND MORE about Zeitz MOCAA and its current exhibitions and programming

FIND MORE reports about the museum’s operations, financial transparency, and curatorial rigor here and here

 

BOOKSHELF
Koyo Kouoh has authored and contributed to several publications and exhibition catalogs, including “Body Talk,” “Word! Word? Word! Issa Samb and the Undecipherable Form,” “Streamlines: Oceans, Global Trade and Migration,” and “We Face Forward: Art from West Africa Today.”

 

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