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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