Well Curated

Lady Linda Wong Davies, founder and chairman of the KT Wong Foundation, is a champion of the arts, both local and international, and shares a glimpse of her personal collection at her home in Cape Town.

Lady Linda Wong Davies is running late. With an unrelenting schedule, her time is scarce. She’s preparing for the opening of the Venice Biennale – and with it, the opening of Mohau Modisakeng and Candice Breitz’s installation at the South African pavilion. But more immediately, there is an opportunity to explore a small part of the daily life of a key figure not only in Chinese-Western cultural relations but also on the global art scene. Like the best homes, Lady Davies’s Cape Town abode (she’s been living here for the past 25 years) offers Rorschachian clues to her personal tastes. Are those ‘Stargazer’ lilies a nod to her Asian heritage? As for the playful ceramic roosters on the table, a nod to the current position of the Sheng Xiao?

All at once, the lady of the house appears and ushers the conversation into her living room, a light- and art-filled space. A vulcanised rubber samurai stands guard at the entrance while, from the walls, Mohau’s photographic works watch like sentinels as Lady Davies launches enthusiastically into her involvement with this year’s Biennale. ‘Mohau is someone I discovered about ayear ago and started collecting,’ she says.

The living room features pieces in varying mediums by artists such as Nicola Roos and Mohau Modisakeng

Nicola Roos’s sculpture of the first black samurai stands guard at the entrance to the living room

Then the consummate cultural arbiter in her takes charge; she is after all the founding chairman of the KT Wong Foundation, now in its tenth year, which aims to foster mutual artistic understanding between China and the West. ‘When I heard about his selection to represent South Africa in Venice I approached him about a collaboration.’ The result would see the artist paired with composer Neo Myanga, who would go on to write an orchestral suite to accompany Mohau’s video installation. ‘Neo was perfect not just for his talent but for his understanding of the matter,’ she says.

‘I always wanted to do something that involved both Africa and China,’ Lady Davies elaborates. ‘It was about waiting for the right moment and the right vehicle.’ And, with the imminent opening of the Zeitz MOCAA, she felt the time to act was at hand. ‘South African culture is going through a renaissance – and amplifying these voices is our part to play.’

‘It’s been a fascinating journey, because the world’s artistic energy is coming from Africa.’ Lady Davies gestures towards the samurai sculpture, ‘Consider this piece by Nicola Roos,’ she says. ‘It tells the story of the first black samurai, who came to Japan a slave and, after proving his bravery and loyalty, was elevated to the rank of samurai.’ The metaphor couldn’t be clearer. ‘His face is so gentle even though he appears so menacing in his armour. There’s a humanity there, a story to tell.’

A piece by Mohau Modisakeng hangs above the fireplace

Gombessa (Coelacanth) by Walter Oltmann

Photography Karl Rogers