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The 21-Year-Old Cape Town Ceramicist Making Art Inspired By Gay Love

Under the name Nebnikro, Cape Town-based artist Ben Orkin makes lumpy and unusual ceramic vessels inspired by gay love. “I hope through my work to express the beauty of gay love in a world which mostly sees it as unnatural, destructive, and dangerous,” he says. His organic shapes are often symmetrical to reflect the connecting of two bodies — either physically or emotionally, or both. “One side reflects the other, but sometimes there is difficulty or unease in this symmetry as love is not an easy thing all the time,” he says.

Orkin wasn’t always aware of where these shapes came from, first throwing himself into molding forms out of clay and only analyzing them later. “They sort of just came out of me,” he says. “Over time I realized that they also came from people outside of me as I developed emotional and physical relationships with those around me.” Once he understood that his pieces were inspired by the human form, he began to develop his style further. Each vessel is finished with a stoneware glaze; his colors are determined by whatever his favorites are at any given moment. “This changes quite often and I tend to obsess over that color until I’m sick of it,” he confesses. Currently he is working on an exhibition of large scale pieces, all in variations of a single color.

Like artworks, each piece has a title which is where Orkin begins, creating forms that follow the words such as “After we were cross with each other, we crossed our legs around each other,” “Missing kissing you,” or “Talking about very private things in public.” “Things happen to me and then I make shapes from those things that happen to me,” he says. Working with clay is a comfort to Orkin; his mother is a ceramicist and he grew up watching her at work. It’s from this place of comfort that he makes works about things that can feel uncomfortable.

Nebnikro is Orkin’s name  spelled backwards; by reversing his own name, he hopes to subvert the conventional expectations of being a man and forge his own identity.

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