Recently, the 16th Edition of SCOPE New York, an innovative and emerging art fair, opened with a VIP Media Preview at Metropolitan West. It featured the work of New Orleans artist Aron Belka, called The Altruist. He was named the National Grand Finale Winner of the 6th Annual Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series competition during the 2015 Art Basel Miami. Rosario Dawson, the program’s creative Mentor will personally collaborate with Belka to develop a public mural installation in NYC that will be unveiled in June 2016. Swizz Beatz attended the VIP preview and met with Aron to discuss the artist’s inspiration. They, along with invited guests, enjoyed specialty Bombay Sapphire cocktails such as the Sapphire 75 and the Sapphire East & Tonic.
I had a chance to speak with Aron, and here are our highlights from our conversation:
Lesley Reider: Where did you draw the inspiration for these paintings?
Aron Belka: These portraits are part of [my wife’s work in Sierra Leone]. She was there during the Ebola outbreak, and her team was in charge of a thing called contact tracing. So when a case popped up they would go usually out into the field to a village where the case was, and they would trace all of the people that were in contact with infected individuals. They would basically monitor them for 22 days. And these two portraits were a part of that group that was part of contact tracing. Neither of them became infected.
LR: How long have you been involved in art?
AB: I’ve been doing art since I was a kid. I got serious about painting after college. I took my first oil painting class in high school, but I would say I made the most leaps and bounds in painting after college.
LR: What inspired you to apply and be part of the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series?
AB: Actually, I applied last year and didn’t win the regionals. The prizes are so big…going to Miami Basel. And it’s just exposure. I definitely knew that I was going to apply the next year. So I did, and I got lucky this time. I won the regional. I certainly didn’t expect to win the whole thing. I was thrilled to win the regional and go to Art Basel.
LR: Do you feel that you painted these specific people to create awareness about your wife’s story? Or what prompted you to do it?
AB: I would say it was more of my own response to what she was going through. The piece in Miami was a portrait of her. The reason I did that piece was that she was in Sierra Leone while I did the piece on the Ebola response. So it was kind of [my] reaction because of the dangers that she was putting herself in, but it was also a response to [the fact that] there was all this media about Ebola, but there wasn’t a lot of media about a lot of the people on the ground, especially the Sierra Leoneans on the ground. My wife was there doing work, but there were a lot of actual local Sierra Leoneans doing a lot of work and dying because of it. These portraits of the Sierra Leoneans are a reaction from me trying to understand this separate life that [my wife] lived because I’ve never been to Sierra Leone. I wanted to have some sort of connection. She has a whole separate family there. I know a lot about it because she tells me about it, but I’ve never met these people. I do hope to get over there. The only reason I haven’t gone is because we have kids, but they’re 12 and 8 now. We’ve actually been taking about it recently to go over there, myself and the kids, which I really need to do now that I’ve done these. I really do want to get over there and see [it] for myself.
What an insightful and inspirational conversation!