By Edward Tsumele, CityLife/Arts Editor
It first operated in Maboneng as a deco shop, before morphing organically into a fully-fledged popular art gallery, representing mainly emerging as well as mid-career artists looking for space to showcase their art. Imba Ya Sarai Gallery became that home for them, and in its short-lived life in Maboneng, the gallery made an impression on both collectors looking for new talent and artists looking for a home.
But then something happened with Maboneng, which saw the demographics of visitors to this popular area east of Johannesburg change, driving several businesses out of the area, especially those focusing on art and those aimed at the high-end market.
Several such businesses moved away from Maboneng to look for new spaces and develop new approaches to doing business.
Their places were however immediately taken over by other new businesses that emerged to take advantage of the popularity of the place with especially young black middle-class professionals and students who enjoy especially night life and clubbing in the area.
Imba Ya Sarai Gallery was one of such businesses, whose vision no longer fitted in with that of the demographically changing Maboneng.
But now the gallery is back, and this time rebranded as an online gallery selling contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora to the rest of the world thirst for collecting fresh contemporary art from Africa.
In essence Imba Ya Sarai is a gallery that focuses on contemporary art of Africa, especially representing emerging art talent in South Africa, looking for a market for their art and an opportunity to develop their art practice.
The gallery affords such talent market access to collectors looking for fresh talent to collect. The gallery is owned and managed by Soweto-born Interior deco consultant and gallerist Thati Molefe Rwasoka, currently based in Johannesburg.
Imba Ya Sarai is a Shona word meaning the house of Sarai, and Sarai is my father’s name,” says Rwasoka.
“Imba Ya Sarai is a contemporary art gallery, which started initially as a deco shop in Maboneng in 2014. As a deco shop the company did well, but then the company transformed into a gallery soon after, as we started getting inquiries from some of our clients who wanted to know how and where they can also collect quality artworks by contemporary artists on the African continent. This happened at the same time when artists requested us to represent them in the deco shop. This eventually led us into selling art works alongside operating as an interior deco shop,” adds Rwasoka.
It is then that I decided on turning the space into a fully-fledged art gallery that represented artists that were independent and were not represented by any gallery.
At the same time, this forced me to research more about the South African contemporary art scene, including attending exhibition openings around Johannesburg, as well as attending art fairs such as Turbine Art Fair, FNB Joburg Art Fair, as well as Latitudes Art Fair.
I was networked fast with artists and was afforded an opportunity for studio visits, witnessing artists at work as I searched for more artworks and artists to exhibit in Imba Ya Sarai.
I learned quite a great deal from these experiences and was motivated more into understanding the artists and their art practice. I did this as I believed that as a gallery curator or gallery manger, one needed to know more about the art practice of the artists one exhibited in their gallery so as to assist collectors better and meet their needs and expectations.
We operated the gallery for two years in its Maboneng premises and we have not looked back. After two years of working in the gallery, we had a number of shows from solo exhibitions to group exhibitions that were well received by art collectors and art enthusiasts. The gallery also did relatively well with regard to sales of the artworks we exhibited.
Unfortunately, Maboneng’ demographic changed as the area attracted a younger crowd and we, therefore, saw that area was no longer meeting the vision of the gallery and we had to close it down and rethink the approach in the African contemporary art.
Currently Interior design business continues to take taking my time while on the other hand I still sell art privately to different clients, some of them through the word of mouth, while others repeat customers from the time when Imba Ya Sari was still in Maboneng.
2020 I decided to try an online gallery, with enough time on my hand due to Covid-19 and our online gallery was launched, and it soon attracted the attention of collectors especially because our the emphasis is now Contemporary Art from Africa and including its diaspora
The Online space gave me a huge advantage because artists forward me high-resolution pictures, which by itself subsidies other sales costs such as framing and courier services.
We also price our artworks at affordable range.
Imba Ya Sara Online now represents both emerging and mid-career artists who are independent but who create amazing works.
Since the launch of the Online Gallery, our profile has risen phenomenally internationally this year, growing so much that we are now meeting the expectations of collectors and art buyers globally.
We also continue to receive requests for collaborations with other art spaces abroad.
Currently, we have two artists that we are going to work with closely to develop their career so that together we can grow.
However, we will continue showing other artists too online as we continue to field requests for more artworks from different artists that we are networked with, showing appreciation of what we do as Imba Ya Sarai. The vision is to continue in the trajectory of being appreciated on global art platforms, something that is already starting to happen but needs to grow further.”