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The Anti Gallery

13 February 17 interview: Laura Jade Vaughan

In only a year, The Anti Gallery has taken over numerous unusual spaces in Nottingham, creating urban art-inspired exhibitions and events for a range of audiences. Owner and curator Saziso Phiri reflects on the past year and looks ahead to the future...

photo: Hisham Ammar

To anyone who doesn’t know, how would you describe what you do?
The Anti Gallery is all about taking art out of traditional gallery environments. By working in unusual spaces, it is about making art more accessible for more people. There’s also a strong link with graffiti and street art which also goes outside of galleries.

What do you think about Nottingham’s street art scene?
It’s really exciting and we have some really good street artists here in Nottingham. The annual Street Art Festival at Surface Gallery has definitely helped boost the popularity of street art in the city, as well as helping sceptics see it from a different perspective. I’ve been to a few street art/graffiti jams and there’s a nice family vibe among the artists. There’s a lot of dedication and passion, and individuals out there who are helping to push the scene further. 2016 saw the launch of Hung Up, Nottingham’s first art gallery dedicated to street artists, and New Art Exchange commissioned Nottingham’s first black history mural. It was such an exciting year for it – I hope it continues.

The gallery’s achieved so much over the year. Do you have any highlights?
We had an amazing launch party at Rough Trade – there was an exhibition with live painting and music, and I couldn’t believe how many people attended. We also had an exhibition called A Hip-Opsession at Breakin’ Convention, a national and international hip hop dance show where we collaborated with the directors and producers of the NG83: When We Were B Boys film. The exhibition also featured photography from the eighties, and a lot of the visitors recognised these images. There was an old school friend of mine who came to the exhibition who saw a photo of her dad, DJ Scratch, from thirty years ago. So it was quite overwhelming and very nostalgic. Being invited as a judge for Surface Gallery’s Street Art Festival exhibition was also a highlight, especially as I got to judge alongside world-renowned street art duo, SNIK, and Rob Rennie, owner of Hung Up.

Have you had any memorable audience responses during an Anti Gallery event?
Audience responses are really important and provide a great motivation for me. re:MIXED at Malt Cross was a great experience for us, as we found we reached more families and older people – people that may have never held a spray can or wouldn’t usually engage with urban art. One of the highlights of that exhibition, a really touching moment, was during the live painting with Isaac Waring-Thomas, where we invited visitors to join him in painting a mural. There was a boy who doesn’t usually engage with painting, but while taking part his mum noticed a change in his behaviour, in how focused he was. Since then his family have decided to get him involved with more creative activities. It was nice to hear people being inspired to get their kids into more creative stuff. You can now get water-based spray paints that are safe for children and indoor use. I normally get them from the great folks at Montana in Hockley.

What I want to do is help break down those barriers, or at least blur the lines, and get people interested in engaging with art

It sounds like you’ve worked with a lot of exciting people and places. Is collaboration important to The Anti Gallery?
One of my favourite work quotes is “collaboration over competition” and our success is all about collaboration – from working with artists and venues, to Dizzy Ink and School of Print, who were one of our first supporters when we launched. Rough Trade have been so good to us too and we will be working with them more this year. We’re lucky that Nottingham has such a supportive creative scene. I find that when you are working with other people, you tend to get ahead more successfully rather than working alone – it’s a really important lesson.

Who are some of the artists that you’ve got to work with?
I’ve worked with some amazing artists who have continued to help and support The Anti Gallery: a couple from Mimm Collective (Whimsy Woods, Elroy the Artist); Emily Catherine for a print collab; stencil artist Maseu; Kelly Ann-Holmes, who makes pop art-inspired pieces with recycled cans; graffiti artist ONGA, who live-painted at our launch; Kid30 at Breakin’ Convention; Nicholas Wright; Honey Williams; dontlookdown, who make table lamps out of spray cans; and Hannah Money, who designed the set for A Hip-Opsession. It was also an honour to be able to curate Isaac Waring-Thomas’s first solo show.

What lies ahead for 2017?
We’re busy! We kicked off 2017 with some street art on Broad Street by Isaac Waring-Thomas. It’s a collaboration with Nottingham Arts Theatre, and we plan to have a different work of art by a different artist every three months. In February we’ll be launching the first in a series of film screenings at Rough Trade with Girl Power, a film about international female graffiti artists. We’ll also be celebrating our first birthday with an exhibition featuring live painting and music on Friday 17 February, and in March we’ll be embarking on our biggest project to date at Nottingham Contemporary.

That’s a lot! Can you tell me more about your work with Contemporary?
Cindy Sissokho and I will be leading a four-week course looking at marginalisation in British society through workshops in visual, digital and audio art. This is followed by an exhibition in April in their newly-refurbished study space, on the radio, online, and possibly outdoors. Our workshop and exhibition relates to their show The Place is Here documenting the Black Arts Movement – a movement that grew out of frustration at art spaces in the eighties. The workshops create a collective voice and an opportunity for the public to respond to the marginalisation in society through visual arts. It’s important because there are still a lot of similarities between the eighties and now – racism, an unfavourable Tory government, poverty, protests. We’re encouraging participants from all backgrounds – you don’t need any artistic experience to take part.

Considering that your name is The Anti Gallery, what made you decide to collaborate with a gallery?
The Anti Gallery doesn’t mean I’m ‘anti-gallery’. It’s all about a different form of engagement with art. I think art galleries are very important but they do have issues. I have conversations with people who wouldn’t usually go into a gallery space for various reasons – sometimes they feel it’s intimidating or that it’s only for the elite. What I want to do is help break down those barriers, or at least blur the lines, and get people interested in engaging with art. We’re lucky to live in a society where we have public galleries that people can visit for free. Art is a great way of engaging with topics, and in this current day and age, a lot of artists are addressing really important social and political issues. Hopefully by working with Nottingham Contemporary, The Anti Gallery can bring a vibe not normally experienced in art galleries, encouraging new people to visit their gallery and experience art from different perspectives.

Where do you see The Anti Gallery, looking further into the future?
I feel like we need to be more ‘anti’ – using places where you wouldn’t expect public art and continuing to engage with new audiences. Maybe exhibiting on public transport, or even people’s houses. I really want to curate an exhibition in a skatepark. I’ve been working with photographers and skaters to develop an exhibition around skateboard culture. I’d also love to get involved with international projects – maybe an art exhibition on a beach in the Pacific Islands, in caves, or among mountains… a girl can dream, right?

The Anti Gallery: Girl Power, Rough Trade, Thursday 9 February, 7pm.

The Anti Gallery: ‘One Love’ First Birthday Party and exhibiton, Rough Trade, Friday 17 February, free.

The Anti Gallery website

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