Nestled in a corner between a historic theatre, book shop and local watering hole is the new creative kid on the Grüner Kranz block. Bellhaus Atelier & Galerie opened their antique wooden doors in central Windhoek on 10 March and comes as a breath of fresh air for lovers of the arts, artisans and those forever yearning for a creative space to bolster a sense of aesthetics. The opening exhibition titled The Marks We Leave Behind is set on a stage of soft downlights, exposed concrete floors and a lofty ceiling all framed by the original wooden beams of the home it once was.
The late Namibian landscape artist Herbert Diener lived and created in the building, which has since been transformed with the help of his son (the current owner and landlord) to house what can only be described as a delightful departure from the stiff gallery spaces we’re used to. Bellhaus combines the old-world charm of the 1906 architecture with nods to the minimalist Bauhaus movement. Form frankly follows function at the atelier of Marcii Magson and Andrea Behnsen. Together they conceptualised a space that functions as more than simply a gallery. It lends itself to long-table dinner parties, film screenings, engaging art classes and yoga in the gallery. With these projects to look forward to in the coming months and many more beyond, Bellhaus is breaking the rules and creating new ones for what to expect from the local art scene.
Marcii Magson needs little introduction to friends of Namibian arts. With over 20 years’ experience in photography, retail, fashion and interior architecture to name a few, Marcii’s touch is tangible in the ambience of Bellhaus. Foremost a visual artist, the opening exhibition features a collection of Marcii’s abstract work, namely a particular piece titled Me and Michael, which saw the artist plaster dark paint over a backdrop of gause. The marks left behind from a troubling experience sought to be covered and recovered through the process of layering wound dressing and an ominous hue. Marcii’s body of work places emphasis on the process and act of creation, the materials with which the artist engages and their conceptual uses and forms. Rather than staying within the boundaries of stylised compositional narrative, Marcii’s contribution to The Marks We Leave Behind is inspired by the imprint that objects and materials otherwise overlooked contribute to the process of making and are shaped and transformed by memories.
Bellhaus draws its name not only from its ideal location on Bell Street, but also due to its synergistic ring to Bauhaus, the movement that is arguably the most influential in the history of art and design. It’s not just in the name, however. Bauhaus established the birth of combining crafts and fine art around 1920. The two had previously been separated by a hierarchy in which fine art and sculpture assumed an exclusive position and practical crafts sat at the bottom of the chain. Bellhaus aims to reunite them in the Namibian art space, à la Bauhaus. By developing the incredible local weaving, ceramic and jewellery-making skills, Marcii and Andrea hope to guide our craftsmen and -women to create functional pieces of art that stay true to their cultural heritage, yet bring aesthetic design to the forefront. It’s an age-old knowledge and expertise that is threatened by contemporary mass production as well as a shortage in the younger generation honing the skills from elders. Bellhaus will be a working gallery space for these artisans to find their niche and successfully sell hand-made functional art, hopefully inspiring the next generation to follow suit.
Which brings us to Andrea Behnsen. The co-founder of Bellhaus has a master’s degree in business design, an interior design degree obtained in London all rounded off by a deep personal and professional love for the arts. Andrea curated Bellhaus’ inaugural exhibition and furthermore drives the promotion and development of local artists through Omuntu Studios in Windhoek and Omaruru. Andrea has also served on the board of the Namibian Arts Association for five years. Her business background, paired with an incredible eye for design, undoubtedly helps drive Bellhaus’ functional art space agenda.
Andrea’s curation of The Marks We Leave Behind is nothing short of spectacular. There are two particular three-dimensional pieces by co-founder Marcii that catch the light of the space and cast abstract shadows on the wall below. Even the complete artwork itself has left a mark behind in the form of a soft projection that adds incredible dimension to the space and exhibition at large. Marcii’s minimalist works are given room to breathe and exist in juxtaposition to the portraits exhibited from the hands of Marianne Chapman.
Marianne’s oil-on-canvas pieces explore subjects, be they individuals or still life, that have left a lasting mark on the artist. Each brush stroke is an inquiry into mark making, the process not only of artistic practice but also of human nature. With vivid colour and bold strokes, Marianne’s art seeks to connect with the viewer on the intersection of how the art came to be. Her work is testament to the fact that humans shape our reality by just being in it.
Namibia’s art scene warmly welcomes the addition of this functional gallery space. With exciting events, engaging experiences and ever-expanding endeavours, Bellhaus is bound to leave a mark behind beyond its beautiful opening exhibition.