Finding exhilaration and conservation in African creativity

February 24, 2024
Southern Guild

“Our artists’ themes call back to their heritage, their ancestry, ritual symbology…what it means to be human.” – Trevyn McGowan, Co-Founder, Southern Guild

My friend, curator and gallerist Trevyn McGowan is a pioneer, shattering ceilings in every sense of the word. While she and her husband Julian McGowan’s Cape Town gallery, Southern Guild, has taken the art world by storm since its 2008 founding, their roots in the design world stretch back decades to their years in London. Given the explosion in global interest in contemporary African art, an expansion of Southern Guild, a longtime ROAR AFRICA favorite, feels natural and necessary. I am  delighted to share that today marks the opening of Southern Guild in Los Angeles - the first South African gallery to ever have a permanent space on US soil! This stunning 5,000 sq ft gallery will sit in good company near David Zwirner and Sargent’s Daughters in Hollywood, opening with two showstopping exhibitions, Indyebo yakwaNtu (which translates from Xhosa to Black Bounty) by Zizipho Poswa and a group exhibit entitled Mother Tongues. 

As I look forward to better representation and celebration of the extraordinary talent and creativity of my home continent in America, my second home, I cannot help but reflect on the importance of bearing witness in real-time. For better or for worse, we live in a primarily digital world. But no technology can reproduce the awe one feels seeing true tangible beauty, whether in the form of art or wild, untamed nature. We all need more transcendent, deeply human moments of wonder, awe and connection.

Southern Guild - art

Calling Southern Guild a gallery doesn’t suffice to describe the enormity of their reach and contribution. In reality, Trevyn and Julian have built an authentic and collaborative guild that places African contemporary design and art in direct conversation with each other…and the wider world. Trevyn tells us, “We established the guild, initially at the Johannesburg art fair, to bring creatives together that we found exhilarating and wanted to work with but who didn’t fit into any neat category.” Trevyn’s use of the word exhilaration feels entirely apt. It speaks to the power and joy of being fully present in the presence of something great.

This intuitive approach to building a roster of artists has resulted in vibrant, ever-evolving exhibits of experiential artworks by dynamic figures like Zizipho Poswa, Porky Hefer, Patrick Bongoy, and Zanele Muholi, amongst others. Many of these incredible artists have been with Southern Guild since the beginning. “Sixteen years later, the avenue we’ve followed most strongly is this idea of experiential and sculptural works you interact with physically, but that also has a very rigorous and authentic background for the maker’s practice,” Trevyn says. When asked, why Los Angeles? She replies, “The landscape of LA reminds me of the Johannesburg I grew up in. There’s a pervasive attitude of risk-taking and nonconformity, a scrappiness and an energy that we at Southern Guild align with. We’ve also felt a huge welcome.” That open-hearted welcome Trevyn speaks of is an element America and Africa both share. It is why so many of our guests feel such an immediate sense of homecoming and comfort the second their feet touch African soil. It is also the reason why it is so essential to bring African culture to America. Southern Guild plans to fully engage with the local landscape in Los Angeles and to create an immediate cross-cultural dialogue by bringing American artists to Cape Town on residency and vice versa.  

Southern Guild - lessons

One cannot discuss contemporary African art without conservation entering the conversation. The two are intrinsically linked. As Trevyn and I discuss works by artist Porky Hefer, talk naturally turns to Xigera – where, as you enter, a huge piece of Porky’s work welcomes you. Sitting on stilts in the wilds of Botswana’s Okavango Delta and architected by my closest friend, Anton de Kock, it is perhaps the greatest architectural feat in the industry. Described by Trevyn as “a beautiful project of the heart,” a staggering eighty-four artists represented by Southern Guild worked on creating individual commissions for Xigera. The result is a living gallery in the wild, a true homage to Africa. Each functional design piece and artwork is a piece of conservation in and of itself, preserving techniques, wisdom, and ancient skill sets like bronze casting and leatherwork in one piece of handcrafted permanence in our single-use world.

Southern Guild - images

To stay at Xigera, surrounded by these pieces, is a potent reminder that the first moment of consciousness originated in Africa. That Southern Guild’s artists crafted so many masterpieces from precious metals and throwaway objects is an example of the inventiveness of my home continent, where finding beauty in the simple everyday moments and items is commonplace – a lesson to us all. That heady combination of wisdom and freshness in Xigera makes that property one of my, Trevyn’s, and many of our guests absolute favorite safari refuges on the planet.

Southern Guild - Africa

Growing up in Africa, I always looked outward, inherently curious about the rest of the world. However, as an adult who has spent twenty years seesawing between America and Africa, so much of what makes my imagination soar and heart race with excitement is happening on my home continent. As Trevyn and I discuss the future of contemporary art in our home continent, we agree that some of the most thrilling new talent is emerging from Harare’s small studio collectives in Zimbabwe. Moffat Takadiwa, featured in Assouline’s African Adventures: The Greatest Safari on Earth,  (based on our ROAR AFRICA trip), is leading the charge for the next generation there. That art delivers good news stories for my homeland while acting as a route to success and means of value to the next generation is a source of solace and huge pride in the creativity, resourcefulness and optimism so innate to Africa.

It is our continued pleasure and privilege to share the pioneering vision of Southern Guild and its artists with so many of our guests in Cape Town and at Xigera. I do hope all of you reading will visit the McGowan’s game-changing California outpost if you have the opportunity. If you wish to experience the incredible bastions of culture and wild beauty across Africa, alongside insider experiences built upon a lifetime lived on the continent, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Before signing off, heartfelt congratulations to Trevyn and Julian McGowan and their entire Southern Guild team for this momentous launch in Los Angeles. It means so much to all of us who champion African creativity. Trevyn finishes by explaining that “Southern Guild is intrinsically and entirely from the continent, bringing a very authentic program that is not filtered through any lens. I think there’s a lot of excitement about that.” We couldn’t agree more. 


Subscribe to receive the latest updates