Culture

These Safari Lodges Are Putting African Artists Front and Center

Inside one safari lodge’s two-year effort to put African arts and culture at center stage.

By Travis Levius

Nov 9, 2020

THE COFFEE YOU’RE TASTING on a sunrise game drive tastes so much more delicious out of a handmade mug,” says Toni Tollman, the director of design and projects for Red Carnation Hotels. Such details are central to the design-fueled rethink of one of Botswana’s most iconic places to stay, Xigera Safari Lodge. When the Tollman-family-owned camp reopens to guests in late 2020 after a two-year overhaul led by architects Anton de Kock and Philip Fourie, the Okavango Delta property will be what Tollman calls a “living gallery” of southern Africa’s most celebrated artists and craftspeople, curated by Cape Town’s Southern Guild collective.

Many of the major pieces at Xigera (pronounced kee-jeer-ah) are site-specific commissions. Cape Town–based sculptor Adam Birch spent months on the property hand-carving benches and chairs from dead knobthorn and mangosteen trees, intending them to mirror the semi-marine landscapes and wildlife of the surrounding area.

Other commissions include a seven-meter-wide water lily designed by de Kock and sculpted by South African Otto du Plessis that will reflect the dark delta waters flowing beneath the property’s elevated walkways. A quartet of coiled ceramic sculptures from Cape Town–based Madoda Fani were inspired by woodpecker nests and plumage. Even the vaulted canvas of the lodge’s 12 guest suites takes cues from the environment, mimicking the shape of the wings of the native Pel’s fishing owl.

Madoda Fani working in clay.

But for all the eye-catching art from South Africans—those coffee mugs from ceramist Chuma Maweni, woven cane seating by designer Porky Hefer, hand-dyed and handwoven rugs from Coral & Hive—something is missing: Where are the artists from Botswana?

“Sadly, there are not so many,” Tollman admits. True, Botswana-based furniture and accessories brand Mabeo supplied some guest-suite tables and storage items such as trays, pencil boxes, and coasters. But almost all the major pieces are by South Africans—many of them white South Africans. In recent months, Southern Guild has pulled in smaller contributions from dozens of Black craftspeople from across western and sub-Saharan Africa. “No doubt, the number of African artists supplying Xigera will continue to grow,” says Southern Guild cofounder and CEO Trevyn McGowan.

Despite the representation question, the pioneering art-driven concept reflects a major shift for the safari industry: Tollman’s ambitions may well spark a positive change that will see Africa’s artistic talent woven more deeply into the fabric of the wilderness experience.

High Design, Far Afield

T+L’s A-List travel advisors clue us in on more safari innovations.
By Scott Bay.

CHEETAH PLAINS, SOUTH AFRICA

The camp’s three minimalist private homes have contemporary African art on the walls, but it’s the fleet of electric Land Cruisers that most impresses Leora Rothschild (leora@rothschildsafaris.com). “Approaching wildlife has never been easier,” she says. “The custom vehicles are each powered by a Tesla battery and offer an almost silent game drive.”

DUMATAU CAMP, BOTSWANA

Each of the Bedouin- tent-inspired guest suites at this camp showcases works by African artists, says Julian Harrison (julianh@premiertours.com).
“Every piece tells an interesting conservation story. A shining example is Washington Muzondo’s wild dog sculptures made from recycled snare wire.”

KISAWA SANCTUARY, MOZAMBIQUE

The first 3D-printed resort in the world has caught the eye of Michael Lorentz (ml@passagetoafrica.com). “I’m keen on its sophisticated take on traditional Mozambican architecture,” he says. “The palm-leaf-thatched roofs nod to the past while the curved walls made of sand propel its design to the future.”

NGALA TREEHOUSE, SOUTH AFRICA

Fox Browne Creative, a South African design firm, is creating some of the coolest lodges right now, says Sandy Cunningham (sandy@outsidego.com). “Founders Debra Fox and Christopher Browne have completely modernized tree-house design with this one,” she says. “The way light streams in through the floor-to-ceiling windows veiled with four-story-tall eucalyptus thatching is pure magic.”

ZANNIER HOTELS SONOP, NAMIBIA

“The tented resort offers elegant furniture, rustic chandeliers, and open-air bathtubs with uninterrupted views of the surrounding desert dunes,” says Samantha Gee (sgee@redsavannah.com), who is taken with the romance of the billowing canopies and the old-school aesthetic of the hotel.

Photos courtesy of Xigera

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