The art world’s attention has been focused on South Africa lately, thanks to the opening of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town. While Cape Town’s beauty makes for an easy muse, many artists have actually made their homes and studios in Johannesburg, inspired by the grit and hustle of South Africa’s most dynamic city. But how is a newcomer looking to dive into South Africa’s booming art scene supposed to know where to begin?
That’s where Kholisa Thomas comes in. As the founder of Kholisa Thomas Art Advisory in Johannesburg, an independent art consultancy focused on contemporary South African art, Kholisa has developed close relationships with the country’s top artists and galleries. She uses that intimacy to guide her clients, many of whom are first-time buyers, through this complex and nuanced world. “I’m really passionate about creating a platform and promoting South African artists, giving my clients expert advice, and immersing them into the art scene,” she says.
Now guests of Johannesburg’s Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa, a plush estate with 53 rooms, have the opportunity to book a private art tour of the city with Kholisa, exploring the city’s premiere spaces while getting the tips and tools they need to build their own private collections.
One of South Africa’s most profound stories was told right at the Saxon itself: while it was still a private residence, this is where Nelson Mandela retreated to write his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.
“Joburg is a hard city in many ways—it’s not a walking city, you don’t have a beach or a central place, and it can be hard to navigate,” she says. “The kind of guests who go to the Saxon are incredibly well-traveled and discerning, and are looking for something unique, something special, something highly curated. What we create is an art experience for them that’s personalized,” says Kholisa.
After an initial consultation, she designs a tour based around her clients’ interests. Stops might include stalwart galleries like Goodman, Everard Read, and SMAC, or visits to the studios of up-and-coming artists in thriving creative collectives like August House. She also likes to take guests to galleries along the posh Keyes Art Mile in the tony suburb of Rosebank, where she can get access to private store rooms not open to the public; and also to the Maboneng Precinct, a vibrant arts district in the heart of the inner city. “Maboneng means ‘city of light’ in Zulu, and it’s really the light of the city,” she says. “Over the years it has gone through degradation and overpopulation, and now we’re seeing this urban regeneration that began with artists moving into the city.” Her tours also include extra personalized touches and access: a chat with a celebrity chef over lunch at his acclaimed restaurant for one couple; for another guest, from an American design firm, a meeting with a local interior designer to talk about the design scene on the continent.
“I think the South African art scene post-apartheid is about narrating and telling our story,” she says. “Many South Africans, particularly black, mixed race, and Indians, who come from a background where art wasn’t seen as a viable career, are now able to follow their passion. They’re able to tell stories that weren’t told.”
And one of South Africa’s most profound stories was told right at the Saxon itself: while it was still a private residence, this is where Nelson Mandela retreated to write his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. There are nods to Mandela throughout the hotel, including in its art. “Their collection has been around telling Mandela’s story,” says Kholisa. “They have a lot of portraits of him, his friends, friends, manuscripts of his letters, and a lot of African artifacts. The hotel really is an art patron in itself.”