Change the world


Artist and former head of Nelson Mandela University’s Arts, Culture and Heritage Department, Michael Barry (MEd ’13), was recently honoured for his contribution to the Arts by the Port Elizabeth Opera House.

He was also a recipient of the 2018 Eastern Cape Department of Sport Recreation, Arts and Culture Provincial Cultural Award.

After matriculating from Paterson High School in Port Elizabeth, he worked as a computer operator. In 1976, he moved to Cape Town to work as a sailor for merchant shipping company, Safmarine. In 1978, he enrolled as a student at the Michaelis School of Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town where he studied until 1981 and later also completed a Higher Diploma in Education. While studying at Michaelis, he worked part time as shelter supervisor at the Haven Night Shelter in the dock area of Cape Town for a year.

During the 1980s, Michael continued to pursue his passion for painting and photography and taught art at St Thomas Secondary School in Port Elizabeth. He was a member of Vakalisa (isiXhosa for enlighten) an artists’ collective that worked in communities to encourage cultural activities. His photographs were included in numerous group shows in the Cape Peninsula including an exhibition organised by the South African National Gallery in 1981 entitled “Young South African Photographers.” Barry’s photographic essay published in South Africa: The Cordoned Heart in 1986 includes some of the work he had done while working at the Haven Night Shelter in Cape Town. These images speak to the living conditions of homeless people in and around the city.

Michael has participated in various art exhibitions, locally, nationally and internationally. One of his highlights is when he exhibited with George Pemba during the Imvaba and George Pemba exhibition. He is committed to the development of local art, with recent installations ‘Arts heritage’ of his (PE Northern areas) community; an exhibition to honour those intangible ‘heritages’ that reflect the common collective spirituality of his community. Michael’s public art include involvement in the 1976 component of the route 67 public art work in PE, the Kite boy and skipping girls in Helenvale (PE) and the recent public art work (still to be unveiled) at St Peter’s ruins in South End (PE). He also collaborated with Fort Hare lecturer Pro Sebopha on a public artwork in Queenstown.

Before he joined the University, Michael was the Project Manager for the Create SA Project supporting the entrepreneurial development for craft practitioners in Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Free State and the Northern Cape. He was also the Eastern Cape Coordinator for the Sunday Times 100 year Heritage project. Michael remains an active arts activist and community development agent serving on a number of community structures. He hopes to spend more time painting.  Michael’s work ranges from portraits of musicians, to religious symbols, to interpretations of the spiritual consciousness of the community.