A couple of weeks ago, my friend Gail and I went on a walking tour of art galleries in Rosebank with Thabo the Tourist. I had never met Thabo before, but I was excited to do his tour because Thabo the Tourist is such a catchy name for a guide. (The “h” in Thabo is silent, for those of you not from South Africa, so the alliteration is strong.)
I like that Thabo — who is originally from Soweto and used to run a tourism business on Vilakazi Street — calls himself a tourist and not a tour guide, even though he is a registered South African guide. It makes him sound more friendly and accessible. And as soon as I showed up for the tour, I could see the name fits. Thabo has a huge, welcoming smile and colorful personal style that screams: I love art!
The Joburg suburb of Rosebank has become a serious South African art hub over the past couple of decades. There are about a dozen galleries, featuring the work of both world-famous and emerging South African artists, clustered within a kilometer radius along Jan Smuts Avenue. The area has become a huge tourist attraction for art-lovers.
Although I’ve been to most of these galleries before, visiting them with Thabo was different from going alone or with friends. Thabo has a unique outlook on South African art and has relationships with many of the gallery owners, curators, and artists in the area. The experience made me look at the art I saw a bit more carefully and joyfully.
Exploring the Galleries of Rosebank
Our first stop was Everard Read, South Africa’s oldest commercial gallery, where there is a banger of an exhibition on by artist Thonton Kabeya.
I’m no professional art critic, but I loved these works and found them extremely evocative. The pictures are a combination of collage, paint, and “sculpted canvas” — painted cut-outs that give the work a 3D quality.
The Everard Read gallery is scattered with small, outdoor courtyards filled with art. Although I’ve looked through the glass into the courtyards many times, it never occurred to me that visitors can actually walk out into the courtyards. Gail and I enjoyed visiting the Everard Read courtyards with Thabo.
We headed across the street to CIRCA, a gallery under the same ownership as Everard Read that’s known for its cylindrical design.
After a quick walk through some smaller exhibitions inside the Keyes Art Mile, we hopped into a taxi and took a short ride downhill to the smattering of galleries near the corner of Jan Smuts and Bolton Road.
At the bottom of the hill we visited Gallery 2 and David Krut Projects‘ two spaces: the exhibition gallery on one side of the road and the gallery/bookstore/project space on the other. Unfortunately the Goodman Gallery, one of South Africa’s most prominent art galleries, was closed for renovations.
While we were at David Krut we met artist Heidi Fourie, who was putting the finishing touches on her exhibition that was about to open. It was really fun to chat with an artist at work.
We taxied back up the hill and finished our tour with lunch at BGR, one of my favorite Joburg burger joints.
Thabo’s mission is to make Joburg’s art galleries — which are traditionally very white, economically privileged spaces — more accessible to everyone. I love that mission and I love that he’s succeeding at it. I definitely recommend Thabo’s tour, whether you’re an experienced art gallery hopper or a novice. Click here to book on a selection of platforms, including Airbnb.
My tour with Thabo the Tourist was complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine.
I loved this and Thabo is a great asset to the galleries. By adding the taxi trip also gives one a taste of what Joburg is all about. Thanks for the invite.
Thanks for coming — you also added a lot to the tour 🙂
How fun. I would love to do that tour. I love Goodman Gallery. Is Kim Sacks still there? I always loved that gallery too. Sometimes you should cover the artists in the Rosebank Market on the weekend. Lots of them are (or used to be) from Zimbabwe and some of my favorites were there.
Oh yes, Kim Sacks is still there. Love that place! Thabo takes people there too sometimes I think.
I would totally forget about art and take pictures of cats also.
Yes, there should be more gallery cats.