Art is a luxury in the Eastern Cape, but one art gallery is looking to change the perception of art in the province and attract buyers and collectors to East London. Litha Ncokazi, Founder and Managing Director of Art Versatile cc, is passionate about his art and making art a cultural attraction in the province.

What first started out as a visual arts and design company that supplied local corporates and accommodation companies with artwork, soon blossomed into much more. “My aim at that time was to set up a studio for my practice and an outlet for my art,” explains Ncokazi.

Ncokazi’s business grew from strength to strength and in January this year he opened Gallery Art Versatile in East London, at the Premier Hotel East London ICC. There is also a ceramics studio attached to the gallery. As Ncokazi specialises in creating ceramic art works that showcase his Xhosa heritage and culture, much of which he learnt from his grandmother, the ceramics studio is a must.  Ncokazi wants the gallery to be an exclusive Eastern Cape visual arts and handmade craft experience, “almost like an outlet, a one-stop art experience,” he says. The gallery showcases artwork by Ncokazi and other Eastern Cape artists.

One of the biggest challenges he faced was funding. “It is hard to get people to fund a business that is more qualitative that quantitative. I cannot say for sure that each month I will sell ‘x’ amount of art,” he explains. This did not stop Ncokazi from pursuing his passion. Through various partnerships, including with Tourism Enterprise Partnership; South African Breweries (SAB Kickstart); Small Enterprise Development Agency; and being the beneficiary of the Eastern Cape Development Corporation’s craft business development programmes,  Art Versatile has managed to grow to where it is today.

In the future, Ncokazi wants to make Gallery Art Versatile a popular tourist attraction in Cape Town. “We would love to have the gallery as part of tours through the Eastern Cape and build a base of collectors and buyers,” he says. “We are also looking into hosting exhibitions for a month or two, without affecting the displays that are already there, as a way to attract visitors.”

“We also plan to feature in almost all the art fairs in the country,” he says, such as the FNB Johannesburg Art Fair. “The idea is that we become a modern art gallery that showcases the cultural heritage of the artists and where they are situated.”