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Getting to know Kholisa Thomas

Antonia Steyn


kholisa thomas

‘Art in South Africa is growing, especially among communities and individuals who are conventionally assumed to have no historical association with it,’ says Kholisa Thomas, a marketing manager-turned-art advisor who is passionate about bridging the gap between artists and art lovers. ‘The art establishment can be a strange and intimidating place, so I started The Art Talks to connect people with art in an accessible, fun and educational way.’

Her budding platform brings together audiences, artists and their work once a month in intimate spaces in and around downtown Joburg – from city rooftops to artists’ studios and other culturally relevant places – where stories and conversations flow between writers, mentors, curators and fellow artists. In between exploring Johannesburg and attending book readings, concerts in the park and art fairs, Kholisa is deeply involved in fundraising for Kgololo Academy, a university preparatory school based in Alexandra township in Gauteng, and the Ubuntu Education Fund, a non-profit organisation that gives health and educational support to children in Port Elizabeth.

Tell us more about The Art Talks. How and why did you start it?

The art scene in South Africa is growing and really vibrant at the moment, with art fairs gaining in popularity, new galleries opening and more local artists receiving international recognition. What makes the Art Talks platform different is that it brings audiences up close and personal with the artists and their work.

With each event, along with the brands and people I partner with, I’m passionate about educating the audience about an artist they may not know or know very little about. In doing this, I hope to nurture a new audience of art lovers and grow the local art collector base. For me, this is the only way our creative economy can be grown, be truly sustainable and take its rightful place in the global art scene.

What interesting projects are you working on at the moment?

The next Art Talks events are with Zwelethu Machepha and Nompumelelo Ngoma – two young artists I want everyone to know about. August and September are busy art months in South Africa, with the FNB JoburgArtFair celebrating its 10th anniversary and the opening of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town. I’m working on a number of collaborations with galleries and artists on innovative ways to bring new audiences to these events.

What have you worked on that you’d describe as the most memorable to you, personally and professionally?

My other passion is education. I’m involved in fundraising for two educational entities: Kgololo Academy school in Alexandra, which provides high-quality private education at a fraction of the cost, and Ubuntu Educational Fund, a multipurpose centre that provides health, education and stability for children living in Zwide, Port Elizabeth.

I’ve involved the artists I work with – they donate their artwork, which goes on auction at the fundraising galas we host for Ubuntu in London, New York and Joburg. All the funds raised from the sale of their works goes back to Ubuntu to support the projects they do. At the same time, the artist is exposed to new audiences at home and internationally. I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of our artists to share their time and work. Being able to merge my passion for art and education and make a difference is something I’m truly proud of.

What is your earliest childhood memory?

Christmas at our house in Kwamagxaki, Port Elizabeth, the smell of bread baking in the oven, my mother in the kitchen cooking lunch, the sound of jazz playing in the living room while my father read the paper and my two sisters and I playing with our baby brother.

If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you choose?

There is nowhere I’d rather live than Joburg. We have the potential to be one of the greatest cities in the world. We have the most creative people with the passion and love for this city to make it happen. If pushed, then I’d say New York – Joburg’s spirit animal.

Do you have one favourite African work of art?

George Pemba’s piece titled ‘New Brighton’. My husband grew up in New Brighton and on his walks home from school, he used to watch Tata Pemba painting outside his home where his family also lived. The artist is very sentimental to both of us.

Who would you love to collaborate with on a work project?

I’d love to work with the City of Joburg to create events that use art as a cultural tool to connect the people of Joburg with their city, and tourists too. Art’s ability to connect people is one of the things I love the most about what I do.

Meet our 12 Next Generation stars for 2017 here, and get your copy of our August issue for more.