We have heard a lot about “black tax” but there is much more to giving back beyond what we are happy to do for family and extended family. We were privileged enough to attend an art exhibition at the home of a gracious couple, where we met the curator and had a chat. Normally our stories cover people who have overcome personal adversity in keeping with our theme of inspiring people because, in nature, the toughest form of diamond is the black diamond. This time we feature an accomplished lady in Hlubi Shezi who is giving back and gifting society at the same time.
BD: What is your background, where did you grow up, what was it like?
HS: My parents were both from the then Transkei now Eastern Cape and moved to Durban for work purposes. I grew up in Durban in a township called Umlazi. I grew up in a large family setting. I had 3 siblings but we always had relatives staying with us. Therefore my life was always about sharing
BD: Where did you study?
HS: I studied Chemical Engineering in the USA. I lived in Boston, Massachusetts for 5 years. In my first year I lived with my Jewish host family that I’m still in contact with. Growing up I always thought I would be in the health sciences like medicine. However, I decided to change when I was in the USA after learning about engineering.
BD: We have much to learn from the Jewish people….
HS: Yes we have a lot to learn from the Jewish people. The human spirit can never be broken. It doesn’t matter what you go through, you can always become what you want to be.
BD: Where did the interest in art come about?
HS: When I look back, I have always been interested in photography with the influence coming from my dad. However, I was not aware of it. My husband and I started collecting /buying art when we moved to Joburg about 17 years ago. We were also influenced or should I say introduced to art by his uncle who is an avid art collector.
BD: How long have you ran and managed these exhibitions?
HS: The first exhibition I held was in 2010
BD: Where have they been held and what informs the choice of venue?
HS: I have always had the exhibitions at my home. This is the first exhibition to move out of my home to a friend’s home. I have always wanted people to feel comfortable and relaxed while learning about art. The traditional gallery environment feels very restrictive and stiff especially for black people.
BD: It was especially gracious of Ceasar and Andile Mtetwa to open up their home. Is this something you will encourage or will you move to public venues?
HS: Yes I’m extremely grateful to my friends for hosting us. Yes the plan is to rotate in various venues. Hopefully we will have more friends support in the future. It’s a huge contribution and sacrifice.
BD: To date, you have not personally made any money from this. Why did you start the exhibitions?
HS: The exhibitions are about the artists, to help them with exposure to people that they might not normally interact with or meet. They are also about exposing and educating our young black professionals and business people to art. I started these after making personal relationships with some artists and realizing the level of disconnect between the creator of the work and those that should consume it. It was not how I imagined. These super talented and amazing people should be superstars in our communities and we should invest in their talents. So basically QOA is an innovative platform for influencing change through networking between the artists, professionals and young businesses.
BD: How many artists have benefited by way of exposure or sales through your efforts?
HS: More than 30 artists. The exhibitions include various artists such as the visual artists, production artists, culinary artists, DJs and musicians.
BD: Is the purchase of art works popular within your circles? Is there a growing market of black buyers for art?
HS: Now it is, as more people are becoming exposed to art. People love art and they want art that speaks to them, in their language and tells their stories. This is exactly my objective to see the market (especially amongst black people) for art grow. I am always inundated with requests for more art after the event and that is the reason we keep doing it because we actually sell even more art after the event. People find the event to be quite a different experience and they remember it. They go home and they realize their homes need more paintings. The art also helps them to use their homes to tell their own stories.
BD: Are there black people buying art as an investment in addition to the aesthetic? Is this a trend in the community?
HS: Yes they are. The QOA event is about promoting and exposing people to investment art. Through these events people are being educated and are buying investment pieces.
BD: The latest exhibition attracted quite a sizeable crowd. Were you happy with the turnout?
HS: I’m grateful to God for the amazing turnout and more so very happy with the sales. The support was overwhelming and humbling. At the first event 5 pieces were sold. Last year we sold 22 pieces. This year we sold just over 50 pieces and at a much higher average price. This represents a huge success for the artists but we are also very happy for the homes whose walls will bel adorned by such amazing investment pieces. The art was the winner this year. Over 100 pieces were exhibited.
BD: Do you have support from the mainstream media?
HS: Not yet
BD: Have you considered inviting schools or having artists speak or exhibit at schools?
HS: I have not invited schools such as high schools but this year we had Artist Proof Studio (APS) which is an art school and gallery. In the past we have had artists addressing the attendees.
BD: Apart from the sales and exposure, is there something else that you are aiming for in supporting the arts?
HS: I have started the partnership with APS where I joined the patron programme. I’m supporting a student financially and maybe grow the relationship and help him with other business skills. I’m hoping that this partnership will grow to more than one student a year. We also want to encourage small businesses and professionals to do the same. I believe that we are global beaters in the arts and we should, therefore, invest disproportionately in this strength of ours. No one else will do it for us.
BD: Any chance of diversifying in to other forms of art?
HS: I think for now, I’ll focus on what we have started. Focus is important in order to master something and do it well.
BD: Any specific message to artists out there?
HS: They must not give up or be discouraged. They must follow their passion and dreams. They must continue producing great work and be creative. We are here to support and make sure that art has a future in this country. They are our heroes and superstars and we will be cheering all the way. Our country and our conscience need them.