A Dream Come True …Mobutu and Charlotte Ka open MOKA Art Gallery in the Hill District

by Diane I. Daniels, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Who says dreams don’t come true?

Throughout their careers, Errol Reynolds, known as Mobutu, and Charlotte Ka knowingly and unknowingly have been working towards their dream of owning and operating an art gallery.

Both now in their mid-70s, they have a consummate amount of knowledge in areas such as artistic production, music, painting and sculpturing. “We have chased our dream to fruition and now our goal is to keep the legacy of Black art and culture alive by creating a vehicle for young people to be inspired by our work,” Mobutu said.

Their dream, a contemporary art, music studio and gallery, is located at 2297 Centre Ave. in the Hill District. The “Mecca of Kulture and Art,” MOKA is housed at the corner of Centre Avenue and Soho Street in a former grocery store building. MOKA’s mission is to provide a place where artists and musicians can come and hone their crafts and garner a further understanding of the region’s rich cultural history. It’s a cultural home that is designed to meet, reflect and learn.

Seemingly very enthusiastic about their project, the couple said their desire to create MOKA is to share the rich cultural legacy of jazz and art that originated in the Hill. “MOKA is depicted as a cultural ark, a home, which will showcase the diverse contemporary artwork and music of the Hill District and the African Diaspora,” Ka said.

Born and raised in the Hill District, Mobutu attended Miller School and graduated from Fifth Avenue High School where he received one of his first introductions to music. At the age of 15, he played trombone at Carnegie Hall. After graduation, he said with a chuckle that he continued playing music on his mother’s pots and pans until he became a percussionist, using drums he carved from a dead tree trunk he found on Dinwiddie Street. As a percussionist, he played nine years with the late guitarist Grant Green. Traveling across the U.S. and the islands, he’s also played with Pittsburgh native George Benson, Freddie Hubbard and Johnny Liddell.

Mobutu also told the New Pittsburgh Courier that famed Pittsburgh drummer Marvin Turrentine was a member of Mobutu’s band, the Bandamystics.

A self-taught musician and sculptor, Mobutu admitted that in his early years in Pittsburgh he was influenced by many local giants and in turn has had the opportunity to help and influence other musicians and artists. Saxophonist Tony Campbell and bassist Christopher Sullivan, now residing in New York, are two musicians that participated in his music, art and drama center. The Archives Institute of Creative Arts was housed in an abandoned building on Dinwiddie Street which he and his artist friends renovated. The Archive served as the de facto studios and had an auditorium for writers, artists, sculptors and musicians. “Cats like Rob Penny and Bob Johnson all hung out at the Archive. August Wilson wrote ‘Jitney’ and a few of his other plays there,” Mobutu claimed.

Mobutu also shared and developed his expertise in Atlanta and Fort-de-France, Martinique. He developed art in the school’s programs with Shirley Franklin, the Director of the Bureau of Cultural Affairs and later the mayor of Atlanta.

He was an invited artist at the Festival of Cultural Arts in Fort-de-France, Martinique, where the mayor there invited him to return to teach sculpting at the Cultural Park in Fort-De-France. He also won an award at the fair for the best sculpture in the exhibition. Returning to Pittsburgh, Mobutu joined the ironworkers union as a welder and ironworker. He was involved in constructing buildings, bridges, highways, superstructures and the East Busway.

Ka labeled her artistic concentrations as paintings, mosaics and installations. “The installations are inspired by historic events with the general theme of ‘the power of the spirit to overcome obstacles’ and my paintings and mosaics illuminate in abstract language, ‘the beauty of spirit,’” she described.

A native of Crestas Terrace, a community located 12 miles east of Pittsburgh, Ka’s artistic influences became defined when she traveled to New York to study at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Arts and Sciences.

“I was in New York during the Black Revolution of the ‘60s and was inspired by that period of defiance, Black Power. I adopted a new lifestyle that included my African culture of the Motherland of Africa and I totally immersed American and African heritages.”

She identified the inspiration for her artmaking as the love of art, dance and music from the classical beauty of the art of Africa to blues and funk. “I am also deeply inspired and involved in the music of our survival, the ‘Spirituals.’ Memories of these strong and mighty foundations allow for much creative exuberance, mystery, magic and fun.”

Ka’s education also includes the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, and Carnegie Mellon University. Honors include The Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh Program, where she received a grant to create a series of abstract paintings to honor Pittsburgh musician and composer Billy Strayhorn. And she received the Artists Fellowship in Painting from the New York Foundation for the Arts (Gregory Millard Award).

She possesses a strong and extensive list of exhibits and has displayed her wears nationally, including The Schomberg and other galleries throughout New York City; locally at The August Wilson African American Cultural Center, The Pittsburgh Center For The Arts and The Center of Contemporary Craft; and internationally in Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and the Ivory Coast as well as Cuba, Jamaica and Brazil. She also operated Jade Art Gallery in 1979 on Forbes and Craig avenues in Oakland.

While touring the MOKA Art Gallery, the architectural work, design and development of the building, as well as the artwork of Mobutu and Ka, are promptly displayed throughout the building. The first-floor gallery is a magnificent display of their creative personality, life experiences and artwork. The couple are planning exhibitions, studio practices, artist talks, cultural exchanges and art programming to encourage dialogue and to spawn innovation. But one of the most important draws to the gallery is the wealth of knowledge and experiences bottled within Mobutu and Ka, that are evident for all to see.

(The MOKA Art Gallery is also available as a community space for events, etc. For more information on MOKA Art Gallery, call 412-692-1444.)

 

(ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: A LOVER OF ART—Charlotte Ka, co-owner of MOKA, a new art gallery in the Hill District, displays one of her many art pieces. – Photos by Diane I. Daniels)

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