How it happened: Melvin Sykes gives us the background story about how the M&M’s pop-up shop came to Newark

business cardMars Chocolate announced recently that M&M’s would be bringing a Halloween pop-up shop to Newark. The shop, which is open to parents or guardians and their children through  7 p.m. Wednesday night, saw lines snaking from its 744 Broad Street storefront location around the block to Clinton Street.

Melvin Sykes, a Newark native and residential and commercial real estate agent with Assurance Realty, gave us the background on how the shop came together. Just off the heels of his successful fashion pop-up shop in the same location, Sykes plans to expand the pop-up concept further into the holiday season and beyond.

Andaiye Taylor: How did the M&M pop-up deal come together?

Melvin Sykes: It was a meeting of the minds with Larry Abel and Marie Brown Moore of Emerita USA, who is the landlord of 744 Broad Street, also known as The National Newark Building.  We also worked in conjunction with Newark Downtown District, who provided security and support for the event.

Taylor: How did M&M find you?

Sykes: Larry Abel of Abel McAllister Design, a company that specializes in event production and brand marketing, was in search of a centrally-located space for a client to distribute fifteen thousand costumes to the children of Newark. He came across my Newark Pop-Up Shop signage from the previous fashion event I put together . We met, and the space met the client’s criteria. That client happened to be M&M’s.

Taylor: What are your plans for bringing together more pop-up engagements like this in the future?

Sykes: I’m in talks with various landlords to create pop-up stores and seasonal holiday markets in vacant retail spaces both downtown and in other Newark neighborhoods.

Featured image courtesy Melvin Sykes

Inside Gifts East West: A gem hidden in plain sight on Halsey Street

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Gifts East West is one of Newark’s gems. The novelty store is neatly tucked away on the north end of Halsey Street — easily missed during the bustling activities of the day or in the silence that shrouds the area at night.

The store, which is stacked to the ceiling with sculptures and novelty items from Thailand and India, as well as handmade paintings and jewelry by the owners, has called Newark its home for more than 40 years. Ing-On Vibulbhan-Watts and her husband, John Watts, run the store together. Watts, originally from England, moved to the city in 1954. After graduating from Arts High School and, later on, Kean University, Watts taught pottery part time at the Newark Museum for 25 years.

The trajectory of Vibulbhan-Watts differs very much from that of her husband. The artist moved to Newark from Thailand in 1969 and graduated with a degree in chemistry from Rutgers-Newark and a masters in polymer chemistry from NJIT.

“I just didn’t want people to dictate my life and use my knowledge and cause harm for their own commercial purposes,” she said.

“It’s toxic,” said Vibulbhan-Watts about the work she did as a chemist. “When you work for a company and you sell the products you make, sometime it might cause cancer. It’s harmful to the people buying these products and to the chemists producing them.”

In lieu of a lab coat, Vibulbhan-Watts picked up a paintbrush and some clay and anything else she could find to make art and before you know it, she was “hooked.”

John & Ing


The small store is dimly lit and if you visit it in the evening, the cool light of the sun as it goes down gives the room a haunted effect, bringing the statues and masks that flood the room to life. The room is brimming with art, paintings of the couple’s daughter when she was a teenager, and picturesque paintings of Thailand inspired by Vibulbhan-Watts upbringing.

It’s hard to capture the entire room in one glance. If one tried to they would miss Vibulbhan-Watts’s portraits. One of a dark-haired President Obama is placed to the side of the room, his 2008 inauguration speech weaved into the painting. Another of Martin Luther King Jr. is not too far, his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech written across the portrait of his face. At the front door of the store is a similar text-based portrait, this one of the famous artist Van Gogh. The painting is a distorted image of the artist’s self portrait; the picture is manipulated to give the effect of his face being sucked into itself. The words from the last years of his life line the picture.

“Ing loves to write the words of the people on the painting,” said Watts of his wife. “She read the six hundred Van Gogh letters, letters he wrote to his brother at the end of his life. She read them all and selected two.”

Although they work independently as artists, preferring to balance each other out with their individual work, they’re a typical couple in conversation: finishing each other’s sentences, interjecting with blandishments when the other chooses to describe their achievements modestly. Even the retelling of how they met was a collaborative attempt. Vibulbhan-Watts, who was still a student at the time, had visited the store to find out where she could purchase fabric. Watts, who had owned the store for a year at the time, recommended some locations. bBut it wasn’t until her final year at Rutgers when she lived three doors down from the store that they reconnected for good.

“From my apartment, I heard some banging and I came out and it was him,” she said.

“I was using my kiln, to make pottery,” he elaborated. “She invited me up to the roof and I ran right up, and that was it.”

“I made some food that was so hot and he couldn’t take it. He didn’t tell me ’til ten years later,” she laughed.

At the end of a store is a door that leads to the couple’s home.They’re workspace is a small room brimming with more artwork. Unlike the portraits at the front of the shop, these aren’t for sale.

“People come and see my art and they leave and they have ideas,” said Vibulbhan-Watts. “You know, like when you go to the museum and you see art and you can’t really participate. So I take a picture of the art and make a poster. I call it The Peace Project.”

The Peace Project is an interactive project. The clay pieces that Vibulbhan-Watts doesn’t sell, she photographs and makes a physical poster from in order to take around to schools.

“I ask students to write and tell me what peace means to them.”

Vibulbhan-Watts’ collaborative project has made its way to schools around the city. From high schools to Peace Parades, people color in the blank spaces of Vibulbhan-Watts’ posters with what they think the word “peace” means to them. Some answers are long-winded; others are short and reactionary.

“Can you imagine if people all over the world write their comments about peace and share this with everyone? We might have no more wars,” said Vibulbhan-Watts on her website. By encouraging this open form of communication through art, Vibulbhan-Watts hopes to create dialogue that might ease some of the tensions that lead to violence and other social ills. “If you saw what someone wrote on a poster, and you saw that they expressed some kind of distress – wouldn’t you be able to help them before they did harm to themselves or someone else?”

Gifts East West is located at 57 Halsey Street, Newark NJ. Learn more about The Peace Project here.

Newark Museum will host full day of events every second Sunday

The Newark Museum is kicking off its new Second Sunday program on Sunday, November 8 from noon to 5 pm. The series, which will run through June 2016, features lectures, performances, artist-led tours, art and science demonstrations and workshops, music, and a special brunch menu. All events are free with admission unless otherwise noted. The Newark Museum is located at 49 Washington St., Newark. On-sight parking is available for a fee.

The November 8 event is in conjunction with the exhibitions The Shape of Light: Gabriel Dawe, Outside the Lines: Color Across the Collections, and Chromatics: Minimalism and Color Field Experiments. Program highlights include:

  • Brunch, catered by David Ellis Events: noon-3 pm. Reservations are required; admission is $19.75 for full buffet brunch and $9.75 for continental breakfast. Call 973.596.6553.
  • “How We See Color”  lecture by neuroscientist and artist Bevil Conway: 1 pm. A neuroscientist who studies vision and color at Wellesley College, Conway is also an artist. He discusses how our brains process color and how that shapes art practice.
  • Newark Museum through the Eyes of Aferro Gallery Artists: 2 pm. Anne Q. McKeown, Aferro Gallery Artist in Residence, tours the Museum and talks about what inspires her and the ways that works in the collection impact her own work as a painter, printmaker and master papermaker.
  • Performance by jazz vocalist Antoinette Montague: 3 pm. Internationally recognized, born and raised in Newark, Montague brings her voice to the halls of the Museum, accompanied by pianist Danny Mixon.
  • Conversation with artist James Little, Artist and Curator Tricia Laughlin Bloom: 4 pm. Abstract artist James Little, featured in Outside the Lines, discusses his use of materials to make tactile canvases in which color is the subject.

For additional information, visit,

Open Doors 2015: At the festival’s closing party, looking back at this year’s weekend art lineup

open doors 2015 cardAll good things must come to an end.

This weekend, Open Doors lit the city up with an extraordinary number of exhibitions, studio tours and events. Residents were able to visit local galleries and acquaint themselves with local artists, while visitors were treated to a glimpse of the dynamic talent in Newark. As local art enthusiasts, artists, event organizers and students came together for the festival’s closing party, conversation flowed about galleries that were visited, art that was bought and the new artists that they got a chance to experience.

With a projected 6,000 visitors, this year has been dubbed as one of Open Doors most successful years, not only in terms of visitor turnout but also by the sheer number of events that were made available. As whispers of next year made its way through the room, attendees openly shared their favorite moments from this weekend and what they hope to see next year.

“I thought this year was great, I attended a few shows and I enjoyed them. I hope to see some more participation from college students in the area, not just attending but participating and showing their work. I know that there are so many talented student artists and I think that they should be a part of this,” said Kira Antoine, a student at Rutgers University-Newark.

Featured artist Dominique Duroseau noted the importance of publicizing the work of local Newark artists to the entire city and beyond. “In terms of craft, every year the work steps up, I think that a lot of people are feeding off the current political and social climate. All the work that is produced is a type of dialogue between the artist and society and the artist is trying to say something, so what I would like to see is more recognition for the hard work that the artists are doing here.”

“Seeing other people introduced to the work was great. People who are not artists, people are not from this area were introduced to such a broad range of artists,” said Adrienne Wheeler, a Rutgers University-Newark professor and curator of the Emerging Ideas exhibition featured at 765 Broad Street. With the impending departure of longtime Newark Arts Council executive director Linwood J. Oglesby, Wheeler noted that the Arts Council will have to continue its legacy of providing opportunity and space for local Newark artists.

“Many of the independently owned galleries in the city are outgrows from Open Doors in previous years, so I think that the Arts Council will have to look at how it’s going to continue to support the art scene by supporting those other spaces as well.”

Featured artist Kern Bruce mentioned the influx of art and artist from outside Newark, in a statement that encapsulates the fear of so many Newark residents, Bruce noted the importance of promoting the history and legacy of Newark art and artists.

“I feel like Newark is building a city on a city,  there are new galleries that are opening up which is great because this means that there are new cultural spaces in the city, but  they are neglecting to bring in the people that have been here historically. I feel that by doing so they are creating a divide.”

Peter Winstead Jr. of The Honors Program, the company behind the musical performances and branding at this year’s Open Doors festival hopes to see the continued growth of Open Doors, especially into a multifaceted art festival that includes not only visual arts but music, also.

“I thought it was an excellent festival. I’ve been to previous years and it’s always been amazing, but I’m happy that there was a lot of music incorporated into the festival this year. What I would like to see for Open Doors is for it to become more than a visual arts festival, it’s about bringing musicians and other kinds of artists to the forefront. Newark should be recognized as one of the premier cities for all kinds of art.”

Open Doors 2015: Forum in Form features five women sculptors at Index Art Center

Forum in Form, an exhibit housed at Index Art Center featured 5 female sculptors from the Newark area. Curated by Colleen Gutwein, the featured artists include Bisa Washington, Amanda Thackray, Adrienne Wheeler, Noelle Lorraine Williams and Dominique Duroseau. Using sculpture and installation art pieces, the exhibit visually unpacked questions of race, identity, gender and culture. Gutwein who is also a Newark based artist is the photographer and documentarian behind the Newark Arts Photography Project, an ongoing photography project that aims to document contemporary artists in Newark.

“There’s a community element to the arts in Newark. It’s never been, show up, show your work and leave. The community has always supported the arts, and there has been so much support from schools, elected officials and residents,” said Gutwein.

As well as the exhibition, attendees were given access to the work of Index Art center artists in residence. Jen Schwartz and Linda Chen, the artists behind This is the Afterlife and Creepy Gals clothing lines are two artist in residence. Both artists collaborate to produce multimedia art projects that range from art installations to fashion shoots. The minimalist and eerie aesthetic of Schwartz clothing line is complimented by youthful, feminist oriented vibe of Chen’s apparel line, Creepy Gals.

Artist in residence, Hila Sela explored femininity, beauty and aging with her painting collection of nude middle aged women. Against the backdrop of their naked bodies, Sela used cool blues and sunflower yellows as the base colors, each shade highlighting the undertones of her subjects skin and adornments.  

“I was really interested in aging, and how aging affects beauty. A lot of women tend not to feel as beautiful the older they get and I wanted to explore that with these paintings,” said Sela

William Oliwa, another artist in residence takes experimental art to a whole new level. Oliwa uses wiring to create sound waves. One of his installations was set up to recite the poem, Two Rivers by Ralph Waldo Emerson. When asked what the inspiration behind the installation was, Oliwa stated that it was sheer curiosity that developed.

“When I make art, I’m always trying to learn something or teach myself something.”

With a wide range of artists whose mediums vary, Index Art Center should be on the must-visit list for every art lover.

Open Doors 2015: ‘More Human than Human’ takes SEED Gallery visitors to new realms

open doors 2015 cardSEED Gallery is one of Newark’s most innovative art spaces. With a wide array of young underground artists and a bevy of alternative programming – including their wildly successful weekly Co-Lab – SEED has carved out its territory as a home for art that one won’t find anywhere else in the city.

During the weekend-long Open Doors festivities, SEED Gallery further cemented their reputation with their exhibit titled “More Human Than Human.” The show was curated by Roland Ramos, an organizer and founder of Digable Arts Festival, an interactive art and music festival in Hoboken.  

Fresh off its Jersey City Artist Studio Tour debut, More Human Than Human featured more than ten artists, including critically acclaimed artist and veteran art blogger Colin C. Jorgensen (also known as Cojo).

Work from the exhibit explored tales of genetic mutation, the presence of extraterrestrial life and psychedelic-themed art.

According to the exhibit’s press release, the only shared theme among all artists was the exploration of “the intricate scientific balance between what is and what can be.” Rooted in the idea of the unknown and extraordinary, artist Cojo explored superhuman fantasies with a painting that merged the most beloved superheroes of our youth. In a tribute to lost youth, artist Jenny Harada created an experimental 3D portrait of stuffed animals, featuring actual stuffed animals.

Featured artist Ray Acardio’s piece titled “Big Mouth” takes the term to a whole new level. Acardio’s piece features a round mouth sporting a toothless grin. With a background in street art and graphic design, Acardio brings graffiti-inspired details to the area surrounding his multidimensional mouth.

While most artists focused on the physical association of the phrase “more human than human,” local Newark artist 5meo chose to focus on the spiritual.

“The art is a reflection of what is beyond human comprehension, this idea of perfection that only exists in another state of mind or another lifetime.  I try to find ways to recreate what I think that is,” said the artist.

Jersey City resident and Open Doors first-timer Ed Ramirez surmised the meaning of the work. “I think it’s meant to showcase art that’s beyond what the mind can imagine,” said Ramirez. “There are a lot of superhero elements which make me think that there is something hinting at our own superhuman strengths as people.” 

Large-scale textile sculpture exhibition “The Shape of Light” on view at the Newark Museum

“The Shape of Light: Gabriel Dawe” exhibition has come to the Newark museum, featuring large-scale installations and textile sculptures that engage their environment through several hundred thousand feet of colored thread.
The exhibition, which will run until January 10, is part of Dawe’s ongoing series titled “Plexus,” which reference “the network of nerves within the human body and the connections between the body and its environment,” the Newark Museum said.
Plexus no.30 and Plexus no.31 will create “luminous abstract environments that explore connections between textiles, architecture and people.”
The Mexico City born and raised artist alters textile fragments and garments with straight pins and other materials to create highly textured objects that are abstract and surreal.
The Plexus installations will transform and illuminate its architectural setting, and can be seen differently from multiple vantage points.
“The taut angular forms are built up from fine lines of thread that, through repetition, create a monumental presence,” the Newark Museum said.
“One thing fashion and architecture have in common is their function of protecting the individual,” Dawe said. “By taking the main component of clothing—sewing thread—and generating an architectural structure with it, scale and material are reversed to create a new construction that no longer shelters the material needs of the body, but instead creates something that is symbolic of the non-physical structures humanity needs to survive as a species.”
The Shape of Light will include two large-scale installations along with smaller works that spotlight the art’s unique process with a variety of materials. These other works include embroidery, sculpture and clothing.
“Gabriel Dawe has a way of reading physical spaces and creating installations that both animate and open up the architecture they inhabit,” said Steven Kern, CEO and Director of the Newark Museum. “We are thrilled to be able to bring his brilliant installations to the New York-Newark region for the first time and for people to encounter these wonderful works firsthand.”
Alongside Dawe’s exhibition, the Newark Museum will also open several other exhibitions of modern and contemporary works that explore color and surface pattern in different mediums. The exhibitions include “Outside the Lines: Color Across the Collection” and “Chromatic: Minimalism and Color Field Experiments.”
“Gabriel’s inventive approach to layering color and repurposing conventional materials presents a perfect opportunity to highlight our strong holdings of modern and contemporary abstraction and color field works in the American collection and across the collections,” the exhibitions’ curator Tricia Laughlin Bloom, Ph.D., said.
For more information visit the museum’s website. The museum is located at 49 Washington St. in Newark and is open Wednesday throughSunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Newark Museum exhibition to showcase world-class holdings of Islamic art

Decorated Wall Hanging; Egypt, early 20th century; Cotton; Newark Museum Purchase, 1929

Decorated Wall Hanging; Egypt, early 20th century; Cotton; Newark Museum Purchase, 1929

Bringing together both historic and contemporary objects from its diverse collections — Asian, African, American and the decorative arts of Europe — the Newark Museum’s winter 2016 feature exhibition will showcase the history and breath of Islamic art.

More than 100 works on display in Wondrous Worlds: Art & Islam Through Time & Place reflect aspects of faith, culture and everyday life of Muslims across the world and throughout the ages. The exhibition, which is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, opens February 12 and runs through May 15, 2016.

The Wondrous Worlds features works in nearly all media, including carpets, costumes, jewelry, ceramics, glassware, metalworks, prints, paintings and photographs. Contemporary works from artists such as Rachid Koraichi and Victor Ekpuk, and modern day calligraphy by Hassan Massoudy, will be shown with pieces dating back to the 9th century.

Highlights range from lustrewares of Iran and Spain to delicate prayer rugs from Turkey and India, as well as Harem #1 from the bi-national Moroccan-American photographer Lalla Essaydi, and a pair of early 20th century Egyptian applique tent hangings—measuring 10 feet high and 6 feet wide—that were acquired in Egypt in 1929 by John Cotton Dana, the Newark Museum’s founding director and museum education pioneer.

“John Cotton Dana focused on making relevant connections between objects and people’s lives, while providing inspiration to artists, artisans and makers across disciplines,” said Steven Kern, museum director and CEO. “Through this exhibition, our audiences will gain a more nuanced understanding and appreciation for Islamic art along with other multi-cultural art forms they may encounter in the future.”

The exhibition opens with a world map populated with select items that demonstrate the intercontinental reach of the Dar al-Islam, or Islamic World, which touches all continents except Antarctica.

“Most Islamic art exhibitions focus on works from the Middle East, North Africa or South Asia, but this exhibition includes a much larger scope. We will showcase works from Southeast Asia, the Americas as well as East and West Africa,” said Dr. Katherine Anne Paul, curator of the Arts of Asia and lead curator of the exhibition. Kimberli Gant, Arts of Global Africa Mellon Foundation Curatorial Fellow, an assistant curator on the exhibition, as well as curators from other departments have all worked together to expand the scope of the project geographically and materially.

Wondrous Worlds opens with an introduction to the Five Pillars of Islam — declaration of faith, daily prayers, charity, fasting for Ramadan and the Hajj pilgrimage — to provide both context and a distinctive view into the function, artistry and cultural histories of the objects. The exhibition then expands upon five themes.

Internationalisms—Then and Now highlights the long history of inter-continental trade and the role that the Hajj pilgrimage plays in promoting international interconnections. The trade of Turkish textiles to Morocco, English and Dutch textiles inspired by Indonesian prints that were exported to Africa, as well as a ceramics traded between China, Iran and Turkey are featured in this section.

Quran, Calligraphy and Book Arts delves into the power of the written word, not only through the Quran, but also through histories and poetry written in diverse scripts representing different languages including Arabic, Farsi, Nsibidi, Turkish, and Urdu.

Hospitality: Fasting, Feasting and Fun, celebrates the domesticated arts. A mise-en-scene installation of a Moroccan feast will showcase a Rabat carpet, leather cushions, wooden screen and metal table settings. Ceramics, paintings and musical instruments from other regions will also be highlighted.

Architecture and Its’ Offspring, glories in architectural legacies displayed in carpets, printed textiles, furniture, tile-works, and historic and contemporary photographs of India and Morocco.

Body Beautiful: Costumes, Fashion and Faith positions silk, velvet and sequined costumes and textiles alongside fabulous jewelry fashioned from diamonds, pearls, emeralds, jade, gold and silver.

For additional information, follow the Newark Museum on Facebook at or Twitter; or by visiting

Featured image: Decorated Wall Hanging; Egypt, early 20th century; Cotton; Newark Museum Purchase, 1929  29.1470

Something for everyone at the Newark Celebration 350 kickoff in Military Park