For the first two weeks it felt like I was dreaming, says Michael Tsepo Jacobs with a laugh.
And no wonder, for the newly-appointed art concierge at The Silo Hotel in Cape Town enjoys sharing the hotel’s enviable art collection with guests and guides them on an immersive discovery of the city’s creative landscape.
Jacobs has been involved in Cape Town’s creative landscape for more than a decade. He managed the South African Market — a collective space hosting local design, fashion and fine arts — on Bree Street, where he was instrumental in introducing local designers such as Adrian Kuiters and Jody Paulsen to a global audience, before moving to the Waterfront to join the team launching the Zeitz museum of contemporary African art.
Managing the retail offering at the museum, Jacobs found himself balancing the interplay between art, design and commerce, and acting as liaison with the curatorial department. That led him to shaping the guiding offering at the museum and translating the exhibition experience for the public and VIP visitors. In 2019 he moved to the curatorial department working on the When We See Us exhibition that is now on display.
“It was such an exciting journey into representations of self,” Jacobs says. And evidently a formative experience, because those elements of translation, perspective and representation are key to the art experiences he now offers at The Silo Hotel.
“Tourism sees us consuming not only experiences, but objects,” he says. “One of the important things about my role is to create experiences that are generative, that are truly engaging with culture. They can be much fuller experiences when you have someone translating what you are seeing and experiencing.
“Here in the hotel we are surrounded by contemporary African art, which are holding histories and conversations about culture and the people on the continent. But aside from this collection and visiting other galleries, it’s important to give a complete experience ... we have art institutions that aren’t necessarily galleries or museums. There are cultural spaces that look at the culture and history of the city, and you also have contemporary institutions that are thinking about compelling conversations.”
Jacobs highlights the AVA Gallery — the longest running artist-led arts institution on the continent — while also acknowledging the role of the built environment in unpacking the city’s cultural history. The Slave Lodge and Company’s Garden, he says, are equally important to discuss.
“You can’t have a conversation about art and creativity in Cape Town and not touch on its colonial history and how that has impacted the architecture and spatial planning of the city. The space itself can act as an archive, and a story. My tours try to encompass all these touch points.”
Jacobs’ connections in the art world also allow access to galleries and artist studios, offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the creative process and catering to a demand for authentic, immersive experiences.
“I believe art is such a powerful way of bringing people into a culture,” enthuses Jacobs, who believes guides also have an active role to play in shifting perspectives on African creativity.
“We do have guests thinking that African art is just about bright colours and textures, and it’s always interesting to see the eye with which the outside comes into Africa,” he says.
“But when we go into these studios and galleries and unpack the thinking and inspiration behind the artworks, you can see the shift in people’s perspectives on African art and creativity. It’s very rewarding.”