Via The New York Times, 15 August, 2023
Koyo Kouoh wasn’t thinking about becoming an art world player when she finished her degree in business administration in Zurich in her early 20s. She had a day job as a social worker attending to migrant women, was writing articles about cultural events, and hanging out with a group of avant-garde thinkers, artists, musicians and actors.
But 30 years on, Kouoh, 55, the visionary curator and executive director of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (known as Zeitz MOCAA) in Cape Town, is an internationally recognized, torch-bearing advocate for African art that is grounded on the continent, but very much part of a global conversation.
“I want to show the expanse of culture, the vast history of how the continent and its diaspora inhabits the world,” Kouoh, who is Cameroonian-born, said in the first of several Zoom calls during her travels between Basel, the United States and Cape Town over the last months. “Humanity has always described itself through objects and pictures; I am interested in what kinds of stories and paradigms we are offering about ourselves.”
Zeitz MOCAA, which houses the contemporary African art collection of Jochen Zeitz, the German philanthropist and chief executive officer of Harley-Davidson, is one of the largest museums on the African continent. A spectacular transformation of an old grain silo in Cape Town’s port area by the British designer Thomas Heatherwick, the museum forms part of the high-end development quarter known as the V & A Waterfront, which paid for the building. At its opening in 2017, the museum was greeted with fanfare for its design and celebration of African art, but also criticism for its perceived elitism and disengagement from local communities.