Making it happen

04 September 2013 - 02:54 By Yolisa Mkele
Assemblage in Newtown, Johannesburg, is a communal space for emerging artists
Assemblage in Newtown, Johannesburg, is a communal space for emerging artists

Making a sustainable living out of art is challenging at best. Twentieth-century Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh had to hack off his ear and die before art buyers forked out serious money for his masterpieces.

This is where Assemblage, a non-profit organisation connecting the art community, comes in on the local art scene. It was founded in 2010 by Johannesburg-based artists Anthea Pokroy and Louise Van der Bijl. After graduating in 2007 with fine arts degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand they went their separate ways - Pokroy spent two years travelling Europe while Van der Bijl worked in a gallery.

After their various adventures, both women still wanted to be artists. Unfortunately, conventional wisdom told them artists do not make money, unless they're dead, missing ears or both.

Assemblage was their rebuttal of the idea that art is a poor career choice.

Their organisation, through a series of networking opportunities, peer mentoring workshops and collaborative projects, is an attempt at teaching artists about the business side of their work while also giving them a chance to work in a melting pot of creativity with other artists.

One of Assemblage's projects, the Newtown Artist Run Centre or NewARC, is perhaps Pokroy and Van der Bijl's magnum opus.

NewARC offers up-and-coming artists the chance to rent affordable studios, shared or individual, and provides peer mentoring group sessions, workshops and chances for resident artists' work to catch the public eye.

All of this happens within the framework of wanting to help develop sustainable careers out of art, and with virtually no budget.

"We are very proud of how resourceful we have been," said Pokroy.

One of the few donors Assemblage has is the London-based African Arts Trust, which sponsors studio space for five up-and-coming artists at Assemblage.

"It's absolutely amazing here. Having been here I can't imagine how artists can work in isolation," said Bongani Njalo, an artist currently on a studio bursary at NewARC, thanks to the African Arts Trust.

Pokroy and Van der Bijl's vision for NewARC is materialising. Some of their artists have begun carving out sustainable careers in the art world.

Earlier this year Lehlogonolo Mashaba had his first solo exhibition, titled Noise , at Artspace Johannesburg, which he said was a great success.

Mashaba's work involves using layered prints and text to create human forms that look almost as though they have been disturbed by radio frequency.

If Pokroy and Van der Bijl have their way, medical students across the country will find themselves suddenly short of ears to dissect, and budding artists may just be able to convince their parents that being a professional artist is not just a hobby.

Assemblage will host a group exhibition titled 'Diptych' on September 19. For more information e-mail



A KEY to the success of the Assemblage mentorship programme is brand marketing and strategy consultant Hilton Lawler, who helped artists at the Qunu Youth Centre in Mthatha as part of an Arts Incubator Programme . He won the Business and Arts South Africa mentor of the year award for 2013, the second time he has won this award . - Yolisa Mkele