Jo Anke Gallery, founded by Hlengiwe Vilakati, is one of the country's few black-run art galleries, and it focuses on emerging young talent. So strong was Vilakati's passion for art and bridging the socioeconomic gap in the creative industry, that she quit her job as a marketing executive and started the gallery in 2013.
Jo Anke Gallery is a self-funded business operating in a niche luxury market, and the growth of the business has been organic. "The high cost of running the business is a challenge, especially for a business in the creative industries. Cultivating a solid customer base is also an ongoing endeavour," says Vilakati
The gallery has focused on expanding the online operation of the business. "We host fewer than a handful exhibitions a year, at which we unveil a new themed collection of new artists. We now encourage clients to visit their website to discover new artists, place their orders online, and we can also arrange for a private viewing of the work, should they wish," she explains.
She describes what she had to do to fulfil her goals: "I have come to learn that the one weakness we are all vulnerable to is ego. Ego sometimes drives people to want too much control over their business, their ideas, or even the strategies to grow their business. This can sometimes be misinterpreted as being 'on top of it'."
She says she has had to learn to let go of control and let the "tribe hijack the brand"; while staying committed to her business vision –– no matter how good or bad times are.
Vilakati says that she is now focused on growing a solid collection by female painters and artists, as well as exploring the international art-collector market. "We actually had an artwork by Chipika Simanwe sold to a Spanish client last year. I believe business growth is an endless evolution. From my experience, I've learnt that it takes a great deal of emotional strength, resilience, hard work and patience for a business to survive. Art is no exception."
Vilakati speaks fondly of one of her proudest artworks to date: "Lekau Matsena's work has been intriguing me since I met him, and we've been working together since my earlier days. He's a rising star from Tembisa who mainly uses oil and mixed media –– ranging from paper to found objects. His artwork 'Lady Aluta' is very close to my heart, because it's about individuals like myself –– and all the other strong women of Africa. The artwork is his message of encouragement for African women, saying: 'We see you, we hear you.' I love that."