I recently spent the better part of a day with Kim Sacks at her beautiful home in Johannesburg, South Africa. Kim has been a friend for many years. She has shared her knowledge, warmth, passion and compassion not only with me, but also with countless friends who have visited her gallery. There is always a welcoming cup of tea, and in the winter a beautiful warm fire lights up the gallery.
The Kim Sacks Gallery should never be missed if you are fortunate enough to be in Johannesburg. The gallery, arguably the finest in South Africa, is a mixture of tribal and contemporary fine craft and design from all over Africa. Upon leaving, you will have a finer sense and a deeper knowledge of exquisite craft from Africa. You’ll certainly want to purchase a piece to take home to guard and care for.
HAND/EYE: Kim, when did you open your gallery?
Kim Sacks: I was away from Johannesburg for 10-12 years and, upon my return, I started the gallery in 1986. In 1998, my husband and I bought a house on Jan Smuts Avenue, in Parkwood, which was reconstructed and became the present gallery.
H/E: What was the reason behind your decision to promote and support local craftsmen?
KS: I always had a passion for and about rural people. After traveling around the world, I knew that I wanted to promote craft and design that existed in South Africa. Art and craft existed in South Africa during the 1970s and 1980s, but it was subterranean due to political issues. It was very difficult for rural women during this time. I went around the country from village to village documenting, photographing, buying and then bringing rural craft from all over South Africa to my gallery to promote the indigenous creativity and material culture that I came across in South Africa, in a respectful way and by doing this, it indirectly helped to grow people’s consciousness.
H/E: How do you define the art in your gallery?
KS: What I look for are objects made by human hand. Integrity to form, function and materials is of huge importance to me. I look for the inherent essence of the spirit of the maker, which one can intuit-reflected. I then make sure that the producer is being paid fairly. That’s my criteria – it’s about human hands, small workshops, and individual makers from folk art to fine craft. These artists are fine-tuning the custodianship for the next generation.
Planting seeds for the next generation to take up the reigns – so important to communities, which are loosing many makers through HIV/AIDS
H/E: And today’s craft and design in South Africa?
KS: Today’s craft and design is more settled, but we have lost extraordinary makers due to AIDS. In fact entire communities have been lost. AIDS has decimated villages and taken the finest craft people—we have lost some of the finest hands. Trends come and go—such as the telephone wire movement. There were some really good quality baskets being made a number of years ago and now you see very little of it around.
H/E: Who are your customers?
KS: I sell both locally and internationally. Including a lot of customers in America. I like to think of the purchasers of art from my gallery as also being mindful custodians. They are collecting and insuring that traditions are passed down to the next generation. Each person holding the art in transit puts their touch on it during its journey, and then it’s passed on again to perhaps children or grandchildren. The Great Mother and where we all come from—art such as a pot can disintegrate and return to the earth or we disintegrate and then those collected items are passed on to another custodian. Art is a journey and understanding the simple essence.
H/E: You are a teacher and a potter. I believe you have a school for ceramics. Tell us about that.
KS: I have been making ceramics consistently since I was 12 and started teaching when I was 17. I started my school at the same time I started my gallery and have trained some of the most prominent ceramists all over the country
I teach 20 to 30 people a week, currently, it changes depending on what I am involved in at any given time … I can have from 30 to 90 students with different levels of development in their craft. I teach people from all walks of life including those who did not have the good fortune to have an extended level of education. I will always teach.
H/E: What do you personally collect?
KS: Look around you—I collect everything—textiles, ceramics, old ivory, Zulu hats and even tote bags.
H/E: What words would you like to leave us with?
KS: I want the world to visit my gallery. My shows may not always pay the bills but they will reflect the craft—the integrity of materials and introduce you to the makers.
I love the notion of people from all over the world, from all walks of life passing through this space. It leaves people sometimes with something to reflect on … The hand-made object – the sacred, time-less piece – the gifts that are bestowed upon us … to take home and cherish …and enrich our lives with. What a total gift …
If you’re in Johannesburg, stop by the Kim Sacks Gallery, 153 Jan Smuts – Parkwood
Johannesburg, South Africa, Ph: 011-27-11-447-5804, www.kimsacksgallery.com