The opening of Nelson Mandela Bay’s latest art gallery is set to breathe new life into the region’s art community, according to the artist behind the project.
Nelson Mandela Bay-based artist Usen Obot’s passion for using art to tackle major social issues, as well as undertaking various community upliftment programmes using the medium, is set to receive a major boost with the opening of Galerie NOKO in Russell Road next week.
The galley, which is owned and run by Obot from the former Denton Properties offices, will kick off with an inaugural exhibit titled “Redefinition of the status quo – collector’s edition”. The opening of Galerie NOKO this Thursday, 26 June, will feature prominent Bay art patron and businessman Phil Gutsche as the guest speaker.
Local artists who are to be featured include Duncan Stewart, Charmaine Haines, Michael Barry, David Jones, Mbongeni Buthelezi, Phumla Matolo, Delphine Niez and Wehrner Lemmer, among others.
“It is an opportune time to do something different in the art world,” said Obot. “This is not just art for art’s sake. I want to use the gallery to also address various functions, whether they are socio-political or HIV/Aids-related. We want to create a dialogue.”
One of Obot’s first projects will be to engage with underprivileged Bay schools which cannot afford either the finance or personnel for art classes, offering pupils free art lessons at the gallery where they will be taught by local artists keen to give back to the community.
The gallery will offer a year-round exhibit of work by up to 20 artists – an attempt by Obot to become more encompassing and offer more deserving artists a platform for their work.
Other initiatives include lauding the role of women in society in a women’s only exhibition in August, titled “Silk and Steel”, “to hear and see them speak to us via visual metaphor, and draw society’s attention to the importance, relevance and integral contributions of women”.
Local artists such as Michael Barry, who heads NMMU‘s Arts and Culture programme, have voiced their support for Obot’s bold community-minded plans.
“Usen is creating an alternative space for alternative voices,” said Barry. “We need that in the Bay because as the city grows, our artwork needs to grow.”
Barry said too much Eastern Cape art talent had been “exported” to cities boasting a bigger art industry, but that was about to change because “there is something new happening to our art here with public art projects by MBDA and other new developments”.
Part of the gallery would also be used as “a conference venue with a difference”, in between various artworks, said Obot, adding that the gallery’s trading hours would be weekdays 10am to 6pm, and Saturdays 9am to 4pm.
The opening of the gallery on June 26th is open to the public, although interested parties must please RSVP via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 084-250-2932.
Since relocating to the Bay in 2003 after a brief stay in the US, Obot, who grew up and studied art and design, as well as fine and applied arts at the Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic in Nigeria, has worked with much of the local art community. In 2006, he co-initiated a travelling exhibition titled “Transition” that took exhibits to previously disadvantaged areas in the Bay.
He also initiated the “NEWNOWNEXT” emerging artist project in 2008 which created a platform for emerging artists to exhibit their work. His own work, which includes abstract oil paintings, sketches and relief sculpture, has been exhibited in galleries in Chicago, Massachusetts, Memphis, Nigeria, Johannesburg and locally in the Bay.
He has also been the Eastern Cape coordinator for the 2010 Spier Contemporary art competition, as well as a regional selector for the prestigious Absa L’Atelier competition, South Africa’s largest art biennial. He also participated in the Nando’s Worldwide Art Project which saw artworks become part of Nando’s restaurants across the world.