SA’s first black female gallery owner

19 June 2012

Thandi Sibisi embodies the blueprint of a young and successful businessperson: impeccably dressed and articulate, with a can-do attitude wafting like perfume around her.

Even so, it comes as a bit of a surprise that the fresh-faced 25-year-old owns four thriving businesses and has shoved her way into the record books by becoming South Africa’s first black female art gallery owner.

It is for this reason that she has taken Johannesburg by storm in the past four months, ever since she opened the doors of the Sibisi Gallery at one of the city’s most elite address – Melrose Arch – on 16 February.

Showcasing South African heritage

Sibisi started her first business, a marketing agency, at the age of 19 after dropping out of university. In the course of six years, she has opened another three: a charitable foundation, a media company and now the art gallery.

Through her marketing agency, Invogue Marketing Concepts, she collaborated with Fifa during the 2010 Soccer World Cup and with the department of arts and culture. It was when she was working with arts and culture that her interest was piqued and her love of the creative arts began. “I fell in love with art,” she says. “My whole life has been driven by showcasing our South African heritage.

“It is such a beautiful country, but we tend to undervalue ourselves, so I wanted to illustrate what South Africans have to offer.”

Hanging on the pristine white walls of the gallery currently is the work of Mbongeni Buthelezi, a Johannesburg artist renowned for his innovative works produced using plastic and a heat gun. Next on the agenda is an exhibition of photographer Alf Kumalo’s work.

Sibisi has no set criteria for choosing artists to exhibit, as she wants the art shown to reflect the ideals of the Sibisi brand. “I choose artists who are authentically South African, and who carry the same values as me and the gallery,” she explains.

Brand values

Values, together with love of beautiful things and South Africa, are what define Sibisi as a brand, she says; despite garnering attention for being the first black female gallery owner, this is not what she wants defining her as a businessperson.

“I am on a journey, and my home and roots inspire me,” says Sibisi. “I am who my mother taught me to be.”

Her attitude seems to be winning her a firm fan base, too. “The reception to the gallery has been amazing,” she says. “I have actually been surprised at the support as I have always been the underdog and have been doubted, but people are trusting the brand.”

Belief in the brand and her bottomless well of ambition are what drive her future plans, which stop short only of world domination. “I want to open branches in London and Paris, among others, but the hub of Sibisi will always be at Melrose Arch, because I have never felt as at home as I do in this gallery.”

The tentacles of Sibisi’s success are not going to stop there, though. The next step up the ladder is the creation of Country Sibisi, which will be a lifestyle centre featuring art, food and wine. She wants to build it in the Cradle of Humankind, close to Lanseria Airport. A key component of it will be the wine cellar, which she wants to be South Africa’s biggest.

“It will allow people to get out of the city, where they can relax and enjoy art, food and wine tasting,” she says. “I am looking to open it in the next eight to 12 months.” The countryside is where Sibisi’s true passions lie, and where she ultimately wants to live.

Joburg will always be her second home, though, as it will be the nucleus of where her businesses are based. “Joburg is alive, and the businesses, especially the gallery, would not be possible anywhere else,” she says.

“Coming back from Paris, after I had decided to open the gallery, I looked in Cape Town and Durban, but decided on Joburg. It allows people to be whatever they want to.”

Sibisi Gallery is located at 10 High Street, Melrose Arch.

Source: City of Johannesburg