Women in Space @ Zeitz MOCAA

Among many wonderful, the two images at the Zeitz MOCAA – Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town marvelously resonate globally. These depict two women in (the global) space: a Zambian Afronaut (with Two Cats) from the 1960s, and the Nigerian Madonna (without Child) from 2018.

The former forty-two 33 meter-high concrete tubes, each with a diameter of 5.5 meters transformed to remain a landmark of Cape Town. About a decade ago this V&A Waterfront Grain Silo was deemed no longer best suited to hold food for the body. Thus, it was rendered to offer food for thought, since 2017 hosting a world-class collection of contemporary art from Africa and its Diaspora.

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Photo by Hendriko Ockhuys (c) 2019.

The two adjacent rooms, which quietly resonate as “women in space”, are a sole qualifying invitation to visit the museum’s strongly inspiring and empowering collections.

One of the two rooms features letters, sketches, and various items, which were the building blocks of the space program run by a Zambian enthusiast Edward Makuka Nkoloso.

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The space program aimed to land a 17-year-old girl Matha Mwambwa, and her two cats on the moon. It also considered a mission to Mars.

Despite the possibly fantastic character of this space effort, the room focuses on presenting the human, aspirational and competitive, as well as the curious and political aspects.

The exhibits tell a story of people with vision and ambition, and followers, who did what they could to literally reach for the stars. Or, is it maybe about individual space, escape, or reaching for above and beyond the understanding and hope?

In any case, they were not alone. Various space efforts, beyond those well-known (or myths thereof), resonated just as strongly in Australia, Lybia, USA, and Yugoslavia.

The adjacent room features Dona aka Madonna without Child by Nigerian artist Kadara Enyeasi. The artists question the contemporary notion of the “racial characteristics” of Adam and Eve, as well as of Madonna (without Child).

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The art resonates well with the ongoing discussions in (Christian) Europe about Madonnas depicted black usually around the 12th century.

At that time such representation seems to have been a non-issue. Interestingly, today’s discussions seem to (at times as fantastically as the space program from Zambia) diverge away from the science.

And this raises a curious question: when a discussion about artistic representations diverges away from reality, does this make ideas discussed more real – or exhibits less art.

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