Interview: Ben Orkin

Ceramic sculptures inspired by human form, spatial-relationships and intimacy are the incredible work of young Cape Town-based artist Ben Orkin (b 1998). Working under the name 'NEBNIKRO', these chunky vessels are abstract in their form and finish, reflecting balance and symmetry in their composition. We chatted with the young artist about his practice and what inspires this collection of work. 

How long have you been working as an artist and with ceramics?

My mother is a ceramicist and I've been watching her work in her studio for as long as I can remember. When I was younger I used to play with clay and make random things but it wasn't necessarily something I thought I would do for the rest of my life. I would say that I began taking it more seriously and making ceramic vessels about two years ago and I haven't stopped since then. 


NEBNIKRO is my name (Ben Orkin) backwards. I chose this name as a way of defining my own identity away from expectations which may have been placed on me at birth. My NEBNIKRO range includes smaller vessels which I reproduce, however I also work under my real name, Ben Orkin, making larger scale conceptual vessels shown in gallery spaces. 

What is the inspiration behind your work, in-particular the pieces we have at Pan After? 

I use the act of making and producing as a means to work through and communicate ideas which can make me feel uncomfortable sometimes, particularly my experiences of love. I am very interested in what it means to be gay and love a body that is the same or very similar to your own body. Love also allows oneself to see themselves or be reflected in another person which is why most of my vessels are symmetrical. The forms I make are inspired by the human form and bodies connecting and reflecting each other.

Having grown up in South Africa, how has this impacted your work as an artist?

I am currently studying Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town. It has been really amazing being a student in South Africa at this time when all the necessary and important changes have been made to the curriculum, the spaces we occupy and the ways we think. It has been an opportunity to question certain knowledge systems which have been so oppressive to many minority groups and this oppression has really shaped our world today. Being a student at this time has taught me to constantly think of my place as a white gay male artist, and that I need to conscious of the stories I tell and how I choose to tell them.

Other than ceramics, what other mediums do you work with? 

 I enjoy beading and sometimes photography.

Is there a place, time or era or an artist that you look to for inspiration? 

Not really but one of my favourite artists is David Hockney. 

What is your most treasured object or item in your home? 

Some people find it a bit weird to live with their own art but I would have to say my art. Each vessel I make is filled with so much of myself and becomes a vessel which holds in it memories or feelings of different experiences. So I have kept three pieces which are special to me and I have them in my bedroom.

What's next for you as an artist?

I am currently in my final year at university and working on my graduate exhibition which will be complete at the end of 2020.