What is Outsider Art
Photographs: René Lion-Cachet & JFC Clarke
In October, 1981 Nukain Mabuza was buried in Emjindini Cemetery, Barberton in a grave with only a reference number. He is now recognized as an important South African Outsider artist and the stone garden at Revolver Creek is listed in John Maizels’ book Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond (1996) as one of 44 environmental works from around the world created by Outsider artists. The other site in South Africa listed by Maizels is the Owl House of Helen Martins in Nieu Bethesda in the Karoo.
In its final resolved state, in the late Seventies, Mabuza’s home was a visually striking landmark reflecting the artist’s strong yet sophisticated sense of colour and pattern, and his ingenious use of available materials. His ‘garden of flowers’ was a tourist attraction during his lifetime and, since his death, has been recognized as a highly unusual and important work of art. For the past thirty years the Stone Garden has remained abandoned to the elements - apart from one attempt to repaint the stones - and little remains of it in its original state.
Mabuza and his art still generate considerable interest and curiosity and his life story and work have remained inspirational and influential long after his death. Photographs of his Stone Garden have featured in exhibitions and publications both locally and internationally. Articles on the Stone Garden have been published in newspapers, magazines and books. Artists and craftsmen have been influenced and inspired by his work.
In 2000 a group of young people from the Matsulu area, between Nelspruit and Kaapmuiden, was recruited by the Mpumalanga Department of Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture to undertake a project to commemorate Nukain Mabuza and his art. The Silulu group was given the task of designing and constructing a monument inspired by the original Stone Garden and using ceramic material as an important component. A great deal of creative thinking and research resulted in a final design for the monument and construction began. The project was never completed and the unfinished structure still stands in the gardens of the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature. Artists from the Matsulu area, inspired by Nukain Mabuza, were also encouraged to display their work at the Silulu Art and Craft Centre at Matsulu.
In 2006 a comparative exhibition of photographs entitled Two Worlds Outside: Nukain Mabusa and Joshua Samuel was held at the Winthrop University Galleries in South Carolina, USA. The exhibition was part of a larger multifaceted presentation entitled South By South Africa-Crafting Cultural Understanding. Joshua Samuel (1898-1984) was an African American Outsider artist who created a garden-like environment known as Can City in South Carolina
In 2012 the Barberton Gateways Project, an integral part of the Barberton Tourism and Biodiversity Corridor (BATOBIC) was completed. The landscaped entrances on Barberton’s two access intersections includes rows of stones laid out to create a ground
pattern based on the double helix of DNA, a reference to ancient fossil life forms found in the rock formations of the Makhonjwa Mountains behind Barberton. Additional large stones and boulders are positioned within this ground pattern. Barberton artist Ronel Reynecke was assigned the task of creating an array of patterns evoking the Stone Garden which she and a team of assistants painted onto selected boulders. Indigenous trees and local plant species have been incorporated to create these unusual gardens which introduce visitors to Barberton and the Makhonjwa mountains.
From the Preface of The Painted Stone Garden of Nukain Mabuza
Three decades have passed since Nukain Mabuza’s death. Revolver Creek has changed, the world has moved on and the original Stone Garden has now all but disappeared. Attempts to repaint the stones failed to do justice to the original art work and restoration of the site would now indeed be an ambitious undertaking. However, in one way or another, Mabuza’s unusual artistic vision has stood the test of time.
I first saw Mabuza’s abandoned home in 1982. Regretfully, I never met Mabuza, but, as an artist, I responded instinctively as I walked amongst the painted stones and embedded boulders. The Stone Garden had, for me, catalytic properties. I had lived in Barberton for eight formative years of my life and repeatedly returned to the Lowveld and Swaziland seeking out, in the landscape and in cultural artifacts and structures, creative meaning and insights. In a series of artworks I paid homage to Nukain Mabuza.
Over the past thirty years I have gathered information and photographs for what has become my Mabuza archive. In the three years, 1990 - 1992, I conducted interviews in Barberton, Low’s Creek, Revolver Creek and Dullstroom, mainly with people who had known Nukain Mabuza personally during the years in which he created the Stone Garden. My initial research article on Mabuza and his art was published in 1992 as part of an exhibition catalogue entitled The Stones Revisited. In a revised form it was published as a booklet in 2001 The Home of Nukain Mabusa. In 1995, the international journal of Intuitive and Visionary Art, Raw Vision published my article The Stone Garden of Nukain Mabuza and in 1996, the Stone Garden was listed in John Maizels’ book Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond, as one of 44 environmental art works from around the world, created by Outsider artists.
In 2012, in preparation for this publication, I conducted further interviews with people who knew Mabuza and I have been fortunate to receive additional documented insights into his life as an artist, as well as photographs. In the following pages I have again presented, in a revised and updated form, the story of Mabuza’s life as an Outsider artist. In addition, in the chapter The Legacy of the Stone Garden, I have attempted to set down the Mabuza story since 1982 - a story that is still ongoing - of the different ways in which the artist and the Stone Garden have influenced and motivated other artists as well as designers and craftsmen. Most recently, out of the Barberton Gateways project has come an innovative and visually striking environmental statement, inspired by Mabuza’s art and the world famous geological formations of the Makhonjwa mountains which form a backdrop to both Barberton and the original Stone Garden at Revolver Creek.
JFC Clarke is an artist living and working in Pretoria, South Africa www.art.co.za/jfcclarke
Email JFC Clarke at firstname.lastname@example.org