Having played a significant role in advancing functional art and collectible design in Africa, pioneering South African art and design gallery Southern Guild is on the brink of another milestone — the first South African entity to establish a permanent gallery in the US.
Near the end of last year the gallery announced its expansion to Los Angeles,which is scheduled for February 2024. Co-founders Julian and Trevyn McGowan chose a 5,000 sq ft location on Western Avenue, situated in a historic 1920s building in Melrose Hill. The space, designed by Evan Raabe Architecture Studio (ERĀS), a Los Angeles-based firm, will serve as the gallery’s new home.
Nestled beside a courtyard and restaurant, the location will serve as a destination for the public to immerse themselves in a dynamic cultural experience. Featuring three large-scale exhibition spaces as well as meeting and viewing rooms, its transformed interior will provide a flexible setting to showcase their expansive roster of artists from South Africa, Benin, Congo, Iran, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and beyond.
“We were drawn to Los Angeles because its palpable vibrancy is similar to that of Cape Town and believe it will be perfectly suited to our particular brand of innovative art space,” says Trevyn McGowan.
The move is an evolution of Southern Guild’s programme and marks the beginning of the next chapter for the organisation. It is also aimed at maintaining relevance and engagement with today’s pressing issues and conversations.
“The world is changing so rapidly and South Africa is positioned very far away — we want to engage with human issues from the inside of a dynamic international city. We also see many links and resonances between our cultures.”
For its debut presentation, the gallery will feature a dual exhibition from February 22 to April 18. Indyebo yakwaNtu (Black Bounty), a solo exhibit by South African sculptor Zizipho Poswa, features five colossal ceramic and bronze sculptures, each standing almost 2.5 metres tall — Poswa’s most technically ambitious undertaking to date.
Additionally, the gallery presents Mother Tongues, a group exhibition highlighting pieces from 25 African artists. Taking a multigenerational and transnational lens, this exhibition observes how language and pedagogy influence different forms of expression. Though the nature of this inquiry has a specific focus, it aims to consider diverse perspectives.
With the aim of initiating a new phase of cultural exchange, the show occupies multiple intersections, moving between visible surfaces and interior states. Participants include Andile Dyalvane, Dominique Zinkpé, Jody Paulsen, Justine Mahoney, Luyanda Zindela, Manyaku Mashilo, Oluseye, Patrick Bongoy, Ranti Bam, Rich Mnisi, and Zanele Muholi among other artists.
Translated from isiXhosa, indyebo literally means material riches, yet its broader connotation encompasses the cultural, economic, intellectual, and spiritual wealth of Africans. On the other hand, Ntu symbolises the spirit that defines and propels — an embodiment of the identity, consciousness, and life purposes of African beings. Indyebo yakwaNtu is, therefore, a fulfilment of Poswa’s ancestral mission to celebrate the natural and self-producing beauty of the continent. The body of work was produced during her summer-long residency at the Center for Contemporary Ceramics (CCC) at California State University, Long Beach.
With a well-established collector base in the US, existing relationships are the foundation of the expansion. The allure of the new space stems from connecting with like-minded individuals, often creating channels to other communities. The gallery’s team plans to engage with its audience and to build deep connections through experiences such as artist walkabouts, panel discussions, exhibition openings, and captivating events.
Trevyn McGowan comments on how the new gallery’s approach will align with their existing one: “Our line-up of exhibitions is in keeping with our exhibitions in Cape Town. Some solo exhibitions may travel there (such as Zanele Muholi’s self-titled show, which we held in the Cape Town gallery in June 2023 and which will be our second show in LA, opening in April); but at the same time the US gallery creates another unique ‘moment’ for artists working towards something new.
“Our intention is to be permeable and to ensure that we not only bring our world to LA, but that we grow, learn and exchange through our interactions with the local creative and collecting community — through residencies, institutional outreach and collaborative projects. Julian and I are by nature outward-looking and curious, so I am sure there will be natural points of convergence and common interest.”
Southern Guild’s gallery model, characterised as disruptive and progressive, places a distinct emphasis on cultural preservation in diverse forms. Beyond the rich craft traditions, the approach encompasses spirituality, ancestral knowledge, and ecology. As the gallery embarks on its momentous expansion to Los Angeles, it endeavours to continue championing those principles, fostering a dynamic environment for innovative art space and cultural exchange.