Art Safari at Molori

Statement pieces by Lady Skollie, Edoardo Villa, Deborah Bell, Norman Catherine, and other exceptional artists add an exciting new dimension to the safari experience at Molori

Molori Safari, the jewel of Madikwe game reserve in the North-West, has always been known for its glamorous interiors, vibrant colours, and spirited approach – whether experiencing the country’s “Big 10” wildlife, or its diverse culture as beautifully represented at the property. Now, the stand-out private suites and main lodge interiors have taken the concept of an ‘art safari’ up a notch.

Along with new-look interiors boldly refurbished by the South African interior design team, Megan Hesse and Andrea Kleinloog of Hesse Kleinloog Studio, the luxury lodge now features an expanded art collection. Works by headline artists were specially selected from the private Ichikowitz Heritage Art Collection to complement the feel-good yet decidedly upscale interiors.

Based in Johannesburg, the Ichikowitz Heritage Art Collection is one of the largest collections of its kind, featuring South African and African artists dating back as far as the 1950s. The diverse collection includes paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photography, and video, all capturing the mood and emotions of Africa’s transformation and positioning the arts as an impetus for dialogue.

Pieces chosen in this vein now add depth to the Molori experience. ‘The result is enchanting,’ says Molori’s owner Ivor Ichikowitz. ‘Our philosophy is to delight our guests with the unexpected and I believe we have achieved this with our new luxury interiors and by adding gravitas to our art collection there,’ he continues.

As for the recently added artworks themselves, new arrivals at the lodge include four Edoardo Villa sculptures. Villa arrived in South Africa from Italy in 1942, during World War II. He was passionately dedicated to the creation of an African identity in his work and is best known for his public sculptures, similar to his red and silver tubular steel ‘Abstract Head’, which is now a striking focus in the glamorous main bar overlooking the pool.

There are three more Villa pieces that are strategically placed outdoors. ‘The Stork’ and ‘African Wild Bird’, however, are examples of his move to welding pieces of metal together in the early 1950s, in the vein of artists like Pablo Picasso and Julio Gonzalez.

Elsewhere on the exterior, Deborah Bell’s large-scale bronze ‘Chariot’ is nestled in the bush near Molori’s main lodge and is a fine example of Bell’s fascination with ancient civilizations and their excavated artefacts. Her work incorporates powerful, totemic images.

On the inside, interesting miniature works and sculpture by Norman Catherine can be found in the Metsi lounge. The main lodge area, near the grand piano, houses a work by sculptor Angus Taylor, best known for his gigantic slate figures set into landscapes, that are held in various prestigious collections in South Africa and around the world. Taylor’s Molori work is entitled ‘Bearing your Becoming’ and is rendered in bronze, malachite and prasiolite.

The gin and whiskey bar showcases Cole & Son ‘Savuti’ wallpaper, also used in the lodge’s game-viewing underground hide. This flamboyant and delightfully quirky wallpaper from The Ardmore Collection shows a warm orange background offset by drawings of monkeys, hoopoes, hornbills, and aloes. The Ardmore studio, in the remote hills of KwaZulu-Natal, produces work by over 70 African artists and ceramists, and has collaborated successfully with UK-based Cole & Son.

Another riveting artwork that hangs in the entrance and sets the tone for the lodge is by Lady Skollie. Guests intrigued by this piece entitled ‘Kind of sort of united we stand: the ups and downs of competitive sisterhood’ (2016), will no doubt find a contemplative space to reflect on its deeper meaning. From papayas to bananas painted provocatively, art critics have stamped Lady Skollie’s works as anything from ‘an erotic jolt to the art world’ to ‘mildly offensive’. Her goal is to spark crucial debates amongst men and women on taboo topics with works revolving around themes of gender, sex, and the politics of lust, as well as her musings on identity.

Seeing these pieces installed and conceptualizing creative interiors to offset them was a satisfying and stimulating process for Molori’s interior designer. ‘It has been the honour of a lifetime to work with the art that I’ve had the privilege of seeing during this project,’ says Kleinloog. Every work evokes a different emotion, whether it be the controversial Lady Skollie or the deliberately soothing landscapes in the spa by Junior Fungai, the Zimbabwean post-war and contemporary painter.

Knowing that the walls and surfaces would soon house new statement pieces, Kleinloog focused first on creative ideas for floor coverings that would complement the organic architectural structure of the lodge. Its curved walls required some out-of-the-box thinking, so she asked designer Koos Groenewald of creative studio Jana+Koos to make one rug that would echo the curved lines. An artist in his own right, he jumped at the challenge and soon found himself making ‘art + rugs’. Before long, it was dubbed ‘the rug project’ and leading contemporary artists were commissioned to create art for the floor.

‘We collaborated with some of South Africa’s most provocative contemporary artists who agreed to have their artworks interpreted and woven into these magnificent rugs,’ says Ichikowitz. Visual reference pieces by Athi-Patra Ruga, Cameron Platter, Jody Paulsen, Maja Marx, Nabeeha Mohamed, and Groenewald were skilfully digitized by Jana+Koos, enabling master craftsmen at Durban-based Brabetz Carpet Mill to produce these unique three-dimensional, textured ‘works of art’.

Today, two years after the project started in the second quarter of 2020, each suite features one of the artist’s extraordinary rugs. The main lodge area features the unexpected ‘Eat Me (Bananas)’ rug by Paulsen while Ruga’s rug lends exuberance to the Molelo Presidential Suite.

Considered in their individual instances and together as an overall project, the rugs ‘spark joy’, as Kleinloog puts it. The floor pieces playfully pull together the new interiors in a move that intentionally sets Molori apart in a light-hearted departure from the safari lodge norm. There is no doubt that Kleinloog’s vision was nothing short of pioneering and as a result, Molori is a marriage of natural wonder, adventurous interiors, astounding rugs, and captivating contemporary artworks mixed with museum-worthy fine art.

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