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Change the world


Usen Obot is a finalist in The Herald Citizens of the Year Awards in partnership with Nelson Mandela University.

Dreaming of the day visual artists are recognised as being on par with professionals like doctors and lawyers is what motivates The Herald Citizens of the Year Award finalist Usen Obot.

Obot, nominated in the arts and culture category, wakes up each day wanting to make a difference in the industry.

Nigerian-born Obot, the Charge d’affaires at Galerie Noko in Central, has for the past seven years inspired artists and audiences to explore and enjoy the world of visual arts through various community projects and related activities.

After opening Galerie Noko in 2014, Obot has spearheaded programmes which seek to facilitate contemporary dialogue between audiences, art and artists.

Obot, 48, said being nominated for the award was a humbling and gratifying experience which proved there was so much more for him to do.

“I believe in more possibilities and I hope that the larger picture will be that it will encourage and bolster others to stand up and be counted,” Obot said.

Having studied art and design, fine art and applied arts at Akwa Ibom State Polytechnic in Nigeria, Obot has implemented more than 40 exhibits featuring more than 160 artists and provided internship opportunities for more than 20 aspiring artists.

In the past 12 months, he established the New Now Next Emerging Artist Competition, with cash prizes up to R30,000, a fully funded artist residency in KwaMagxaki, and employed four paid interns since November.

In his personal capacity, he raised funds for the procurement of necessities for an NGO in the northern areas to feed needy families during the pandemic.

“I see gaps and needs in our communities.

“I know I am blessed in certain aspects and the least I can do is to let others benefit from God’s benevolence.

“When you are coming from the bottom, and particularly in an industry that a vast number of the population do not see the value of, you wake up each day asking yourself, ‘What can I do to bring a paradigm shift’,” Obot said.

On potentially winning the award, he said it was important as it would unequivocally illustrate that selflessness or service to others was not a sacrifice without reward.

“This is a shot in the arm to advocate for the growth of the arts industry for the empowerment of our community.

“For the world to be a liveable place for us and the generations to come, everyone has to contribute their gifts, talents and challenge their abilities.

“I call on the powers-thatbe, the stakeholders and the wider community to see the essence in funding, supporting and promoting visual arts for this enriches our history, culture and tradition,” Obot said.

Obot has also been granted the opportunity to be artist in residence by the RAW Program hosted by the Arts of Africa and the Global South research programme based in the fine art department at Rhodes University.

“I will be fulltime in studio in Makhanda for two months to develop a new body of work for my solo exhibition that opens in the first week of November,” he said.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 25 August 2021 written by Devon Koen Nelson Mandela University is the main sponsor in the Citizens of the Year Awards 2021.

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