#MuseumHeadToHead: "An opportunity to engage with leading international voices in the contemporary art world"

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It was on a Thursday and after a long day, I wanted to do something fun. I clicked on the Zeitz MOCAA Instagram notification and watched an interesting and informative conversation between Sonia Lawson, director of Palais de Lomé in Togo, and Koyo Kouoh, executive director and chief curator of Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) in South Africa.

Palais de Lomé is a unique art and culture centre situated in Lomé, Togo. The building, formerly the governor’s palace during the colonial era, has been restored and transformed into a landmark addition to the cultural scene in West Africa.

Zeitz MOCAA opened in September 2017 and is a public not-for-profit contemporary art museum which collects, preserves, researches and exhibits contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora, and is located in Cape Town, South Africa.

These two directors discussed the challenges that young contemporary art organisations on the African continent face, especially during a pandemic. They also discussed curatorial practices and art’s role in the community. It was an amazing discussion, the first of many. Cliffordene Norton chats to Storm Janse van Rensburg, senior curator at Zeitz MOCAA, about the #MuseumHeadToHead series.

Storm Janse van Rensburg (Photo: Cliffordene Norton)

What is the inspiration behind the Head to Head conversations?

We initiated the series last year as an opportunity for the museum to engage with leading international voices in the contemporary art world, when Kate Fowle, director of MoMA PS1 in New York and long-time colleague and collaborator of Koyo Kouoh, our executive director and chief curator, was visiting Cape Town.

We started with a focus on institutional voices, and it was a natural shift to move the forum as a live event to social media when lockdown in South Africa started in March this year. The tone and urgency shifted for us then to engage with art institutions, museums and practitioners on the continent, and to make connections and discuss issues that are pertinent to our context – to unpack the challenges and opportunities that we face, but also to enact and facilitate solidarity.

Most of the conversations are anchored and hosted by Koyo, but they also include other members of the institution’s curatorial team.

How often are these conversations held?

The conversations are held every Tuesday evening at 6:00 pm (SAST) on Instagram Live, with some exceptions. 

How important are diverse literary perspectives from the African continent?

It is not only important – it is essential and simply a matter of fact. So much of the current discourse and so many platforms for contemporary visual art and, by extension, literature are framed and promoted elsewhere, largely by the art market, and it is important that we “take it back”, so to speak.

We are celebrating the extraordinary wealth of practices and approaches, while also continuing to promote the importance that culture plays in our societies.

What has the viewers’ response been thus far?

We have a very keen and loyal following which has been growing and is enthusiastically engaged. We realise that our audience for the series is completely international, but it is wonderful to see that our regular visitors and members are keenly engaged.

Are there any plans to continue these conversations after the pandemic?

We see Head to Head as an ongoing initiative that will develop and grow. As for the point above, we see more people engaging, who would normally attend a talk like this in person at the museum, and we are exploring a hybrid format going forward. Nothing beats a physical gathering to share, learn, celebrate and engage, but we also want to reach out, and we realise that we can bridge some distances by hosting events such as this on online platforms.

"@zeitzmocaa has started a live video." Sonia Lawson and Koyo Kouoh chat about the opportunities and challenges that their young contemporary art organisations face.

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