"MASA" The Unlikeliest of Art Galleries easily missed in the centre of Bury

On Bolton Street in Bury there is a shop front which you might easily miss.

By Richard Morris | Last updated 27 July 2022

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Sandwiched between a sports trophy shop and an estate agent it says on the facia: MASA UK, Art Gallery & Gifts. Why MASA I questioned the owner?

“Well…you see in Macedonia I worked in marketing. My business was called Marketing Association Support Agency…MASA. When I came to the UK I had (I thought) really good English, but it wasn’t up to my being able to develop that business. So, I kept the name for the gallery.

Besides, it’s the first two letters of my forename and surname.”

Matija Sapundjieska.

So far so…well not very clear. But Matija chatted away and it very soon became apparent that her gallery reflects the passion for her exhibitors, whom she likes to nurture. And as her story unfolded her love for Bury and this part of the world was explained.

Mark Beresford

You see Matija has two kids, grown up now. But her daughter Andrea has cerebral palsy and in her Macedonian homeland, she explained, facilities for people with any disablement or relying on a wheelchair just do not exist.

A move to England in 2004 meant that Andrea could attend a local school where not only the facilities were excellent, but that she herself was nurtured through an education that began in the UK with her not having a word of English.

“Andrea speaks just like a Bury girl now,” Matija smiled, “She doesn’t have an accent like me. In fact, she excels at languages, particularly Spanish which she studied at university.”

I deduced from this that nurturing her family of artists reflects the nurture that the Sapundjieska family found when they moved to the UK.

So why the gallery I asked? Matija told me that she had a couple of artist friends and managed to get their work displayed in a local gallery.

But after that – and some sales – Matija tried in vain to find other galleries that would accept the work. And so, in 2013, MASA UK opened on Bolton Street in Bury.

Kiril Gegoski

Now Matija has, of course, Macedonian connections. She invited several of those artistic connections to exhibit, whilst at the same time encouraging local artists to place work in her gallery.

Her enthusiasm has seen many launch parties on the top floor of the gallery and she has taken up and coming artists to art fairs in different parts of the country. A little aside: her husband is a consultant radiologist, currently working in Gibraltar.

Christine Southworth

Almost commuting between Bury and Gibraltar, Matija corralled Gibraltarian artists to put on a MASA exhibition there and subsequently display work in her gallery back home. And last year, visiting with her daughter Andrea, they found themselves locked down and stranded for three months in Gibraltar.

Of course, Matija organised for renowned artist Michael Viger to ship work from Vienna to stage a show there. The exhibition was called ‘ART VS COVID.’ She never stops.

Christine Southworth

Now I have to say that the work on display at MASA is not all my ‘cup of tea.’ But then that’s what any gallery and exhibition is all about of course. And it seemed to me that as Matija showed me each of the three floors the sheer quality of the work grew at an eye-popping rate. Each drawing or painting of course, accompanied by her stories of nurture.

“It’s not about making money; it’s about making artists happy. I know all their problems and pains. Artists paint the pain. Some of my artists are unknown, but one day everybody will know their names and I want to be part of their history. This is my kingdom. I help people.”

Nigel Stewart

I can only show a handful of those eye-popping works in this short feature. So, it’s worth going along yourself to meet Matija. She’ll tell you her stories and show you the work that is in her kingdom on a street in Bury.