NIROX: Where Art, Nature, and Monkeys Meet

Joe and I drove along a bucolic country road in the Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage Site 45 minutes outside Joburg. It was a sunny afternoon. We weren’t exactly sure where we were going. We’d heard there was a large sculpture park out this way and we wanted to check it out.

We came upon a gate that said “NIROX.” Our map said this was the place. But the gate was closed and locked.

After some internet surfing and a few phone calls, we learned that the NIROX Sculpture Park is only open to the public for special exhibitions and events. NIROX is a private foundation created to cultivate the arts in South Africa. The foundation is set on 15 hectares of land, filled with trees and wildlife and gurgling streams. In addition to the outdoor sculptures, which blend seamlessly with the landscape, NIROX also provides accommodation for artists in residence who stay for a few weeks at a time.

We eventually gained entry. Thank god for smart phones because it would have been a shame to miss this.

(Note: Joe did such a fantastic job editing my photos for this particular post, I feel he deserves a special shout-out. He really makes my photography look better than it actually is.)

Sculptures appear to stroll the grounds at NIROX.

An artistic installation in the main house at NIROX. The previous artist in residence at the house, Geoffrey Hendricks, had just left and the new artist hadn’t arrived yet.

We went from the main house to the cottage, where the other artist in residence lives and works. The current cottage resident is Steve Bandoma, a young artist originally from Congo — this is one of his works. Steve wasn’t there when we arrived; we felt a little strange taking pictures without him there, even though the staff had notified him we were coming and said they were sure he wouldn’t mind.

There were dozens of monkeys cavorting around Steve’s cottage — on the roof, on the patio, peering through the windows, etc. Those creepers have berries on them that monkeys love to eat.

There were so many monkeys.

Dancing rabbits or dancing impala? You be the judge.

Another view of the strolling sculptures.

The sun was going down and it was time to leave. As we headed up the path to the truck, we passed a young man with a big smile and a fedora hat. Obviously this was Steve. He invited us back to the studio.

We watched Steve work for a while and he talked to us about his art. He’s currently working on mixed-media pieces — a combination of painting and collage. It was exciting to look at these magazine ads, wrappers, and bits of paper and imagine that they will eventually become works of art. “Art is not about culture,” Steve said. “It’s about personal state of mind.”

Steve and I in front of one of his favorite works. Steve told us that he’s proud to be “the first young, black, African artist” to live at NIROX. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

We thanked Steve for his hospitality and bid him goodnight. We’d only met 30 minutes before but we all felt like old friends. I think I might be a little bit in love with Steve. (Sorry, Joe.)

If this doesn’t inspire you as an artist, I don’t know what will.

We were sad to leave. But we’re planning another trip to NIROX in a few days so stay tuned for a possible part deux.

Goodnight, NIROX. Sweet dreams.

Post-script: I recently did an interview about my life as an expat with MaryAnne at A Totally Impractical Guide to Living in Shanghai, and she featured me in her most recent blog post. Pretty cool! Check it out here.

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  • Reply Slowvelder April 14, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Those grounds look fantastic. Quite awesome work by Steve too.

  • Reply Derek Smith April 14, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Great space, beautiful and tranquil, but as you said not open to the general public that often. The above set was taken when we visited Nirox last year.

    • Reply 2summers April 14, 2011 at 5:20 pm

      Wow, it’s amazing how different it looked when you were there in winter. I’m glad we got there before the green went away.

  • Reply eremophila April 15, 2011 at 12:46 am

    Another lovely trip you’ve taken me on Heather, thank you!
    Great interview too:-)

    • Reply 2summers April 15, 2011 at 10:13 am

      Thanks for your nice comments on both 🙂

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough April 15, 2011 at 6:07 am

    Oh, Heather, these photos ARE stunning! I would have LOVED NIROX! Wow– Speacial thanks to “Joe” for the brilliant editing! Fabulous post!

    • Reply 2summers April 15, 2011 at 10:16 am

      Thanks so much Kathy. I’ve passed on your compliment to Joe. NIROX was such a cool place and I can’t wait to go back.

  • Reply tomorrowslices April 15, 2011 at 8:29 am

    Hey – it’s a small world! First I start following your blog about Joburg as an ex-South African living in Shanghai and now you pop up in a Shanghai blog! Liked your interview!

    • Reply 2summers April 15, 2011 at 10:18 am

      This world keeps getting smaller and smaller. We’re basically all neighbors now.

  • Reply Tilly Bud April 16, 2011 at 10:00 am

    I love those strolling statues.

    • Reply 2summers April 16, 2011 at 1:11 pm

      Me too! Couldn’t get enough of them.

  • Reply Joshi Mukard April 18, 2011 at 7:27 am

    the last two photos are breathtaking

  • Reply lisa@notesfromafrica April 19, 2011 at 6:33 am

    I really like that they put the sculptures out in the gardens.

  • Reply Denis April 26, 2011 at 8:34 am

    What a fresh, pleasant, honest-type blog. Encountered by chance while trying to figure out whether we want to explore Nirox. Pleased to meet you, 2summers, long may you enjoy Africa.

    • Reply 2summers April 26, 2011 at 9:19 am

      Thanks so much, Denis! I’m very flattered that you enjoyed the blog. I’m going to check out yours.

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