Koyo Kouoh. Cultural Producer

She lived until the age of 13 in her native Cameroon, then emigrated with her family to Zurich, Switzerland, where she studied economics.

In 1995 she went to Dakar (Senegal) to interview the director Ousmane Sembène and discovered that she wanted to dedicate herself to culture. She started with literature and cinema, then with photography, and in 2008 she launched the RAW Material Company project  –  an art centre, exhibition hall, artist residency and debate space  –  in Dakar.

In 2019 she arrived in South Africa. After 20 years of participating in biennials and curating cultural projects, it is now the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Arts Africa, known as Zeitz MOCAA, in Cape Town, where Kouoh is investing all her talents as CEO and Chief Curator.

Upon taking on the role, she recalled that her obsessions as a curator, “women, politics, artists creating universes, diaspora, the idea of modernity and, of course, the digestion of colonialism with an emphasis on South Africa”, would have been at the centre of his choices.

She has not stopped fighting to ensure that the representation of Africa is far from the usual negative and pejorative connotations. “I’m interested in the stories and paradigms we offer about ourselves,” she told the New York Times in August, referring to artists from the continent and the diaspora who represent an “expansive culture.”

The MOCAA was opened in 2017. Shortly thereafter, its first director, Mark Coetzee, resigned. Nigerian curator Azu Nwagbogu served as interim director until Koyo’s vitality came like a whirlwind to resolve the almost total lack of a working system, employees, funds… Then came the pandemic and the museum was closed for seven months.

“There was an urgency to come back to life,” Koyo said, convinced she would succeed. To ensure that an average of 2,000 people visited MOCAA every day since the beginning of her mandate, she postponed the exhibition of works by prominent authors such as Tracey Rose or Otobong Nkanga and began with an open call to any artist, amateur or professional, from Cape Town who would like to share their work.

“Many South Africans have a psychological barrier to these art spaces, but our proposal brought them here, they came to see their works in the museum.” She then opened the space to artist residencies, discussions and meetings and created a global board of advisors for MOCAA.

Her personal, social and educational experience in Africa and Europe allowed her to decide to return to the African continent when she had her first child as a single mother. “I couldn’t stay in Europe, in that saturated space. I had become a mother and I couldn’t imagine raising a black child there,” she explained about a decisive moment in her life. She then adopted three more children.

She declares herself a “conscious addict” of shoes, clothes and food, although what obsesses her is showing that on the African continent, there is enormous “mutual support, generosity and care”. She is part of a professional generation that declares itself “proud of the beauty of African culture”. (Carla Fibla García-Sala) – (Illustration: Tina Ramos Ekongo)