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In Conversation with Jochen Zeitz

Art South Africa speaks to Jochen Zeitz, Founder of the Zeitz Collection, at the commencement of construction ceremony for the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa.

 
Jochen
Jochen Zeitz addressing attendees at the commencement of construction ceremony for the Zeitz MOCAA.
 
You founded the Zeitz Foundation in 2008, with a strong focus on sustainability and collaboration. Can you give us some insight into what the foundation does and how it upholds these ideals?
My belief is that business needs to become sustainable, in order to sustain our lives on our planet; I have tried to contribute to a more sustainable ways of doing business through my business life and through the Zeitz Foundation. The Foundation primarily looks at conserving large areas of land around the world, but also the philosophy we call the four ‘C’s – Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce – because I believe that if we realistically look at how we live on this planet, will we be able to preserve and conserve it, respecting the various cultures on the planet, looking at the community as one, and having a commercial platform that ultimately provides prosperity for not just mankind but nature as a whole. I feel that through the Foundation, we could experiment and come up with projects in areas of high conservation and biodiversity value, that would hopefully preserve large parts of land or water.
 
Can you explain why you chose Thomas Heatherwick as the architect for the Zeitz MOCAA?
First of all, he was somebody that showed a very strong connection to the building early on, saying that he wanted to do something with it. He had a great vision and great passion for this building, and we felt that he understood what we wanted accomplish; I am very happy that he is the one that was selected.
 
Positive-change is an important concept that keeps reoccurring in the creative and sustainability spheres; how do you view the concept of ‘positive change’?
Well, I think negativity doesn’t move things forward; you can be a cynic and a pessimist, but ultimately when you try to move things forward with a positive mindset you, will accomplish great things. Creativity is about being positive; exploring, experimenting and pushing the boundaries with a positive mindset and a very clear ethical foundation, that ultimately tries to do more good than bad. A positive mind set is important in life, and everything we do.
 
You chose Cape Town as the city in which to build the Zeitz MOCAA, which is also the city selected as the World Design Capital for 2014. What do you think it is about Cape Town, and South Africa, that makes it an ideal location for a Museum of Contemporary Art in Africa?
I think that Cape Town has a great vibe and a positive energy, many consider it the gateway into Africa. Historically it plays a very important role, as well as being an interesting and exciting place to visit. It has everything to offer in terms of building a successful museum that is seen by many internationally as well as locally.
 
Can you tell me a little about what draws you to collect and support contemporary art from Africa?
When I came to Africa 25 years ago, I fell in love with the continent from day one, and ever since then it has played an important role in my private life and my business life, first through sport and then through art. I think that art is a great gateway to the future, and it pushes the boundaries. Historically, culturally and from an artistic point of view, there is an enormous creativity in Africa that needs to be seen, and for that you need a location. Art from Africa and its diaspora didn’t have a place to shine, and for me that was a good enough reason to collect art and to create a venue that brings everything together, speaking about Africa through Africa and the arts.
 
100 GOOD IDEAS: Celebrating 20 Years of Democracy – our WDC project and flagship publication that focus on Creativity, Sustainability and Positive Change – features Zeitz MOCAA, describing it as “the most significant cultural development in many years.” What do you envision for Zeitz MOCAA and the Zeitz Foundation over the next 20 years?
I am convinced that this museum will become a landmark, where people will turn and see creativity that originates in Africa, internationally but also very importantly nationally within the continent. It’s important that this needs to be recognized and become significant first as a local project, then as a continental project and an international project. I think it will be considered a unique museum, that I hope it will start a trend that will give Africa the recognition internationally from the contemporary art perspective, and contribute to the continent in significant ways.
 
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Inside the grain silo at the commencement of construction ceremony for the Zeitz MOCAA.