Building a southern African art collection that archives 'the spirit of our time'

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Between us (2020). Banele Khoza’s new exhibition, titled In My Feels, is a poetic and complex artistic engagement with the lifeworld of love. (Image supplied)
Between us (2020). Banele Khoza’s new exhibition, titled In My Feels, is a poetic and complex artistic engagement with the lifeworld of love. (Image supplied)
  • Banele Khoza is a visual artist, a curator, gallery founder, and the owner of the Raven Art Collection. 
  • Established in 2013 to archive "the spirit of our time", the collection is a step toward Khoza establishing a museum. 
  • This, in a bid to keep local art accessible to local audience as collecting local art becomes a pricier as the market develops. 

Banele Khoza prefers full sentences over one word answers.

Although the one-word description of his occupation is "creative" in an interview with 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, Khoza quickly adds how his everyday blends painting, drawing, curation and gallery practice. 

Since concluding his studies at Tshwane University of Technology, Khoza has risen to critical acclaim in the form of international residencies, curatorial projects, several art prizes, and international shows like the group show that Kehinde Wiley curated in Los Angeles, Self-Addressed.

Also the founder of BKhz - a hybrid gallery and incubation space for emerging artists based on the Keyes Art Mile in Rosebank - Khoza is one of Africa's youngest gallery owners. 

Parallel to him building a tiered, omni-functional "creative" practice, Khoza has spent his time in the art world assembling quite the art collection. 

There are many reasons to start an art collection. Some do it to support the arts, others to adorn homes, invest incomes, illustrate a political stance or simply to preserve a visual history.  

Although these and more reasons are valid first steps to collection, there is a reluctance to do so.

"You cannot live in it, drive it, eat, drink, or wear it," art dealer Michael Findlay simply puts it in his book, The Value of Art: Money, Power, Beauty (2012).

"We pay for things that can be lived in, driven, consumed, and worn; and we believe in an empirical ability to judge their relative quality and commercial value,' Findlay adds.

This is especially true in a developing country like South Africa. 

According to the 2021 AfrAsia Bank Africa Wealth Report, the global art market is currently valued at $80 billion. Of this amount, art made and sold from the African continent accounts for $1.2 billion (around R19 billion).

In the past decade, the value of art in South Africa has risen by 28% while global prices rose by less than half at 12% in the same timeframe. 

Although the art considered in this report takes into account the value of work by old masters like JH Pierneef and Irma Stern, such value increments are becoming true for more and more local artists. This will inevitably make collecting local art a pricier exploit for us in South Africa.

In a bid to keep local art accessible for local audiences, one of 27-year-old Khoza's dreams is to launch a museum of contemporary art in his 30s.

As a step towards this, Khoza established The Raven Art Collection (RAC) in 2013. It also doesn't hurt to share his home with things that bring him joy. "I spend half of my day looking down at a screen. When I eventually look up I do enjoy looking at a beautiful surrounding, dressed in art and flowers."

Currently featuring well over 30 artworks, the Raven Art Collection is made up of predominantly Southern African Art. These include artists like David Koloane, Willem Boshoff, Tatenda Chidora, Penny Siopis, Heidi Fourie, and Keneilwe Mokoena.

The most recent additions to the collection include, but are not limited to, works by Zanele Muholi, Thenjiwe Nkosi, Papi Konopi, Lunga Ntila, Nelson Makamo, Bronwyn Katz, and Wonder Buhle. Existing to archive "the spirit of our time", Khoza's collection, was only made public in October 2020. 

"For seven years I kept my art collection private and pleasantly shared it with friends and family as they would visit my home. However, while in lockdown, I learnt so much and discovered brilliant treasures from collections," he says in reference to Perry Elliott's trove, and Serge Tiroche's collection, The Ditau Collection and the Scheryn Collection

To explain why these collections had new discoveries for Khoza, the music video for the song Bam, taken off the album 4:44, will be used as an example. Here, Jay Z walks the streets of Kingston, Jamaica with Damian Marley.

During their conversation, heard between the song's chorus and verses, Jay-Z offers a lamentation: "The prophets in the beginning were musicians. They were poets, writers. That's what we've been tasked with in this life. We're the whistles. The wind goes through us, we make noise," he says.

If visual artists, who visualise the times, are perceived in this same light, then collectors are the custodians of the history, culture and nuanced narratives that artists tell. 

This is because since the advent of public galleries, museums have amassed massive collections in the name of making art accessible to the public. However, only a small percentage of the art that museums own is available for public viewing.

Once a piece of art is absorbed into a collection, it becomes easier for the general public to never have access to it (for viewing purposes) or for them to know that it ever existed. 

Consider how most of Georgia O'Keeffe's work is in storage, almost half of Pablo Picasso's oil painting trove is locked away, and not one Egon Schiele drawing is on display. Aware of his position and its potential effects, Khoza decided to publicise his collection by making it available digitally. 

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