15/09/2017 4:56 PM AEST | Updated 07/02/2018 7:32 PM AEDT

Take The First Look Inside Africa's Largest Contemporary Art Museum

Iwan Baan
The 10,000 square meter, R500m Zeitz MOCAA museum opened to the press on Friday, September 15.
Photo gallery Inside Zeitz MOCAA See Gallery

Art history changed course today when 600 members of the media from around the world descended on Cape Town's V&A Waterfront for the official press preview of the new Zeitz MOCAA Museum -- a 10,000 square meter, R500 million art gallery dedicated to contemporary art from Africa.

The museum, which officially opens to the public on 22 September, has already sold 24,000 tickets to its opening week where visitors will get to experience the 80 galleries spread over nine floors in the Waterfront's old grain silos.

This week, HuffPost SA got an exclusive look inside the project, which has been in the works for the past 10 years. The project was founded by former Puma CEO, conservationist and philanthropist Jochen Zeitz, who lent his name, and vast art collection, to the project.

Zeitz MOCAA curator Mark Coetzee spoke to HuffPost SA ahead of the launch this week. Coetzee says that he has been Zeitz' personal art dealer for the past nine years, and slowly the two have developed the vision for this new museum.

They intend, Coetzee explains, to reverse the approach of historical art museums like the British Tate Museum and New York's The Metropolitan Museum, by only exhibiting work produced after the year 2000.

An entire floor devoted to the work of the Swaziland-born, South Africa-based artist Nandipha Mntambo will be one of the central focuses of the museum. Mnatambo is known for her cowhide sculptures that explore the notions of gender and the African woman.

Speaking to HuffPost SA, Mnatambo explains the long history between her, Coetzee and the MOCAA museum. Coetzee bought an entire exhibition of work by Mnatambo at the artist's Standard Bank Young Artist of The Year Award exhibition.

"It's a big thing to happen to an artist, especially so early in your career," Mnatambo explains between meetings. "To be included in this project is such a big thing for me, and for the African continent. My work has been in the high school art syllabus for a few years now, so places like this will make it possible for students who are studying my work at school to see the pieces in real life."

The museum, designed by British starchitect Thomas Heatherwick, has carved out the internal walls of the silos to create what one critic described as the "cathedral of African art".

"People say, who cares about art? Who needs it?" Coetzee said.

"But contemporary museums... have become a public meeting place where you are challenged by ideas you can hopefully learn from... where you can discuss taboos and have a conversation about something that is different to you without killing one another."