The first time I visited the Museum of African Design (MOAD) in the Maboneng Precinct was February 2014. The occasion was a Valentine’s Day warehouse-type party called Electric Kiss. It was as if the party was curated to mimic that scene in the series ‘Girls’ where the protagonist, Lena Dunham, and her friends attend a hipster rave at a secret location which turns into a night of dancing, drugs, partial nudity and groovy tunes. Granted, our version was a lot more PG13, but I have yet to attend a more hipster party than Electric Kiss. My inner hipster weeps at the thought.
So when I heard that an exhibition celebrating 20 years of democracy, titled ‘21 Icons’, was being held at the very same MOAD that had granted me my hipster dream, I couldn’t resist. A few days after Youth Day, I layered up and returned to MOAD. The exhibition was in the downstairs section of the museum, with large prints of 21 masters of social change on the expansive white walls. Video interviews with each icon played on a small screen which you could watch whilst sitting on awkwardly high and slightly unstable stools created by design students. Whilst the actual context of the exhibition was worth the visit, the wide open spaces and cement floors made the cold unbearable. Overall, the experience was underwhelming and uncomfortable.
In recent months MOAD has undergone renovations, which have redefined the kind of space MOAD is. Revealed at Vernissage.1, a preview of the museum’s exhibitions running this quarter, MOAD has reinvented itself as a space that not only exhibits African art across different media, allowing the audience to see, listen and touch, but has also created new spaces, such as the March Hare cafe and the Maker Library, spaces for thinking, sharing and creating that give the museum life beyond quarterly exhibitions.
Vernissage.1, named after the French term used for a preview of an art exhibition, was the perfect way to introduce a new era for MOAD. Stephen Hobbs and Marcus Neustetter’s ‘Temporary But Permanent: Projects’ and Jenny Lai, Chris Saunders and various collaborator’s ‘NOT x Chris Saunders’ provided visual treats illustrating how collaborating can reimagine and recreate spaces and things.
Chris Saunder’s short film was the highlight for me. It told the story of a superhero, created by Lai and Saunders and played by renowned performance artist, Manthe Ribane, fashioned in the garments on show, moving through South African towns and cities. After all the visual stimulation you could wander towards the sounds of DJ Just Themba and the smell of delicious grub.
Naturally, I made a beeline for the Backsberg Estate bottles then hovered around the tables set up for a blend-your-own-wine competition. Between my glass of white wine and the copious amounts of “tasting” we had to do to get the blend just right, things were bound to get hazy – just in time for Zuko Collective, who managed to drown out the now slightly inebriated chit-chat in the venue with their commanding sound – a lovely end to the night.
I can safely say MOAD has now established itself as a museum for African design as well as a space that lives beyond exhibitions, something that Johannesburg has been needing for a while.
Words by @ThatGirlFati
Photography by @prettipiktures