Some healing occurs when the soul speaks through a brush on canvas. Loretta Mekgwe knows this because she overcame an affliction of depression that assailed her when she was retrenched a few years ago and is now waiting to teach visitors to her gallery how to tap into their own reservoir of creativity at The Art Lab
From the moment a client steps into the latest and only art laboratory in town, the visitor is met with a calming environment that inspires creativity. The music is soothing, the candles enchanting and there is aroma of herbal tea inviting as the smell of fresh paint on canvas confirms that you are at the Art Lab, situated at Phase 2 in Gaborone.
Many may think this place has appeal only to those with artistic leanings but it has little to do with creative talent. The proprietor Loretta Mekgwe, who co-owns The Art Lab with her 12-year-old daughter, says the space is about creating the idyllic atmosphere for a therapeutic experience.
“Sometimes it is easier for people to express themselves visually more than to speak,” Mekgwe told Time Out in an interview. “Art can provide healing even if you don’t have the words. It allows our souls to speak. You get to release everything you are feeling onto a canvas, which is therapeutic. But I must add that I am not a doctor and this is not therapy.”
After a 15-year hiatus, Mekgwe picked up her paintbrush again in 2018 following depression almost took over her life, thanks after a letter of retrenchment from her employer. Three months later, she staged her first art exhibition that she eponymously called “Keabetswe – A Leap Forward.” She had tapped into her Setswana name, Keabetswe, and found inside the abundance of talent that it denotes.
But it was at the inaugural Francistown Arts Meeting last year that Mekgwe gained the inspiration to open her art laboratory after interacting with artists who shared their stories and artistic journeys. “I got to learn that as artists, we face the same challenges,” she said. “I then took it upon myself to create this space where I could share my artistic skills educating Batswana about abstract art, which is an art form that tells a story.”
Mekgwe’s abstract piece titled “Mola” was at the Francistown Arts Meeting to remind people of Botswana’s heritage through impactful paintings of “Matlhoa,” “Meropa,” “Melelo,” and “Dikatara,” as her other pieces are called. These paintings express the culture of Batswana in its beauty, giving a refreshing way to appreciate the diverse backgrounds and celebrate the creative nature of people across the whole country.
There is cohesion in these pieces as each painting represents an instrument of creating sound, whether it is a guitar or just a person’s two hands. Some of these pieces can be found at the Art Lab today. “All the pieces are black but you could still see musical instruments in the background,” she explained. “I was in a dark phase when I created those paintings that say we still sing even in our sorrows. They are a reflection of how I felt at that time, and that’s what art does.”
The Art Lab officially opened its doors this year in February but soon closed due to COVID-19. The creative space recently re-opened and can take a maximum of four clients at a time for a stress-relieving experience without having to sit through a therapy session. Mekgwe teaches her visitors the basic skills of holding a brush during two-hour sessions that get their creative juices flowing on a canvas that the visitors take home. The P300 offer comes with a free glass of wine, herbal tea or juice for the kids and snacks.
“We also have corporate packages which can serve as year-end sessions or workshop activities for employees,” she said. “I suit my services to my clients. The Art Lab is a passion project that offers everything that I love as an artist.”
Plans are underway to take The Art Lab to the resort town of Maun in the world-famous Okavango Delta and eventually to several locations around the country.