As an art dealer and consultant, Kholisa Thomas has long believed in the power of art to spark important conversations, but she is also aware of the gap that exists between art world insiders and those who have been historically excluded. With the foundation of her online platform artfull, she aims to make buying art more accessible — and that’s just the beginning of her mission of education, inspiration, and dismantling patriarchal systems.
Cayleigh Bright: The festive months can be frantic, but are also a chance to take stock of the past year. What are you celebrating this season?
Kholisa Thomas: I’m celebrating the successful launch of artfull and the incredible artists and creatives I worked with to bring it to life. I’m celebrating being South African and the creativity, resilience and hope we’ve all demonstrated through a very challenging year. I’ll also be celebrating time with my family and the simple pleasures of life: unrushed mornings with my kids, sunsets and catching up on books and movies I didn’t have time for during the year.
CB: Much of your business has stemmed from your desire to fill empty walls with art. What would be your first piece of advice to someone who wants to adorn their walls, but has no idea what they’re looking for?
KT: You’ve got to familiarise yourself with the product you want to buy. There’s so much out there in terms of variety in art. I think people underestimate this and when they arrive at a gallery or art fair, the sheer number of choices can be intimidating. Your first assignment when deciding what you’re looking for is to get out there and see as much art — and as many different kinds of art — as you possibly can. Don’t be too selective or judge yourself when you’re looking at art. For just that moment, leave behind what anyone tells you about what you “should” like. Art is as much mind as it is heart. Be open to being intuitive about what you like: trusting yourself will guide you well in your art-buying journey. Once you’ve found a style, artist or medium you like, get expert advice, read up, speak to people in the know. Looking at art online, on gallery websites, museum websites, Instagram and YouTube is a great way to start if you don’t have the time to attend every exhibition and gallery opening.
CB: What factors do you consider when you’re providing art advisory services to your clients?
KT: A first-time buyer needs a lot of information and someone to guide them through the maze that the “art world” can be; they want the overall context and bigger picture. They’d like to understand the finer details, such as: “how do I know I’m paying fair value for the artwork?” or “what is a print edition, and should I be buying editions in the first place?” They need real foundational facts about how the art market works. More seasoned buyers are looking for ways to expand their scope of knowledge and access — to know the key players in the industry, the artist, the galleries, the museums and the collectors. They want to delve deeper into an artist’s practice, where they are located in the art world and what their long-term career might look like.
Wherever the client is on their art journey, it should be a relationship based on trust, professionalism and strong ethics.
CB: Could you tell us a little about what’s on your own walls?
KT: What’s on my walls is what I love. I collect work by artists I admire, artists who take risks and are not afraid to be authentic in their beliefs and values or to make bold, controversial statements. I collect artists who push culture forward in terms of progressive ideas and new ways of thinking. I also collect artists who create items of beauty: reflective, spiritual or nostalgic work, the kind of work that makes people feel uplifted and hopeful when they walk into your home. A good part of my collection is gifts from the artists I’ve worked with over the years; these are my most treasured items. They’re sentimental to me and remind me how privileged I am to work with such artists.
CB: Art is, of course, a very personal choice. Can it make a good gift?
KT: If you know the person you are buying for well, then I say go for it. Art as a gift is not for the boss, the colleague or the person you sit on a board at school with. It’s for your intimate relationships: your mother, father, siblings, best friends and, of course, your lover.
CB: It’s the season for giving, and artfull’s given that plenty of thought with the Art of Giving. Could you tell us a little about how this aspect of your business came about?
KT: My other passion is education, and in the South African context of poverty and inequality, education is the one tool that can truly transform a child’s life. I sit on the board of Kgololo Academy, a private school in Alex offering high-quality education for the community of Alex, and Ubuntu Pathways, an educational in Zwide, Port Elizabeth, where I’m from. Together with the boards, we organise two key fundraising events every year: a Joburg Gala for Ubuntu Pathways and Thanksgiving Dinner for Kgololo Academy, auctioning art donated by the artists I work with to raise the much-needed funds to run them successfully. Combining my two passions of art and education to create real change through these institutions gives my work greater purpose and meaning.
CB: If there were no restrictions at all, what would be your ultimate art gift?
KT: To create a global art collection of female artists from around the world. There’s a huge imbalance in terms of female artists being recognised and collected in the art world. Humanity is going through one of its most challenging periods in history as the old paradigms of patriarchy, war, racism and fear-based control are being dismantled. What are we to replace this old system with? I believe female artists have, like women all over the world, in all professions, had their voices suppressed, rejected, belittled and ignored for centuries. They hold the key to creating a new vision for the world: a world that’s more compassionate, equal, sustainable and values every individual’s right to freedom.