Namibian infrastructure projects in the spotlight – 15 Dec’11–15 Jan’12August 3, 2012
Welwitschia’s Ark in the Namib desertAugust 5, 2012
Text and photographs Ron Swilling
Chance led me to the garden in Omaruru on a wet day when rain was pouring down and thunder was rumbling. The ephemeral Omaruru River had been flowing muddily for a week and water filled every crevice. Or I thought it was chance. By the time I left the garden a few hours later, I had reassessed my understanding of the word ‘chance’, realising that, as many people believe, nothing happens by accident.
Hanne Marott-Alpers opened the gate to the Omuntu Garden, Sculptural Art and Peace Park, and I was left alone to wander among and wonder about the sculptural pieces between showers of rain. I should have known this wasn’t an ordinary garden when I read the sign at the entrance: ‘Entry at own risk. Beware, creativity is loose’, and the sign pinned to the trunk of the palm tree: ‘This way please. Follow the light to the garden. Don’t fear resurrection curtain. Life starts beyond the bones.’
I stepped gingerly on the wet paving, making my way through the animal-adorned gate, through the curtain of bones and bells, and ducked my head under a dripping creeper. I cast my eyes on an angel-winged Mother Earth – made of scrap metal and benignly holding a wire planet – and entered the garden.
Soon I was absorbed in the sculptures – chameleons with drops of water glistening on their metal chins, stone carvings peeping peacefully from the grass, and birds, butterflies, hearts and angels. Eventually I made my way around the big tree to the house to hear the story of the garden from Hanne as the rain began to pour down. Then the wind whipped up, swivelling a metal heart around on a post with such momentum that I wondered whether it was trying to tell me something. By this time I had already immersed myself into the magic of the garden and was quite ready to hear messages from other realms, so the story Hanne began to tell me was hardly surprising.
Whenever Hanne tried to assert her will on the garden, she didn’t succeed. It seemed that the garden wanted to do things its own way
“The garden has a life of its own,” she said. “It wanted to be creative.” The former international finance lawyer from Denmark had bought the house in Omaruru with its barren, neglected garden in 2005, and with it heaps of negative energy and a pile of junk. The advice she was given was to call in a bulldozer team. But she started to renovate and transform the place, using second-hand items and finding bits and pieces at the scrapyard. She says the recycling theme came with the house. Her use of earth materials and recycled goods was initially met with scepticism from neighbours and friends. She ignored them and started to dig her kitchen waste into the soil. She also began visiting the tip for garden refuse to put back into the earth. To her surprise, many plants emerged in this way.
Whenever Hanne tried to assert her will on the garden, she didn’t succeed. It seemed the garden wanted to do things in its own way. So she began the new experience of allowing things to happen instead of always trying to control them. It was a huge life lesson. She let go and relaxed into its energy. People began to arrive at the garden in unexpected ways, wanting to spend time in it. It grew into a workplace and sculptural garden that offered local artists a showcase for their work. The Omuntu Garden, Sculptural Art and Peace Park, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Nahas Angula in September 2009.
As the rain began to pelt down around us, Hanne continued her story. She explained that the garden was a haven for creative endeavour, and that when people made art in the garden, they exceeded their own expectations and abilities. Artists also suddenly began to make angels. It started with the first artist who worked with Hanne, a man called Samwele Kamati. One day Samwele sat under a tree and made a small angel from copper. This was his first, as angels are not considered usual subject matter for Oshiwambo-speaking men. “Something moved my heart,” he said. From that time onwards, Samwela made angels. Many others have also been inspired to make angels in the garden and every year a new type of angel with a different shape and made from new material is created.
When you walk through the garden, you have the ability and potential to leave the old behind and enter into something new
The garden continues to provide a creative space where people come and connect with their own creativity. At the time of my visit, seven artists were exhibiting, all working with recycled material – scrap metal and stone offcuts from the dump. The impressive work was dotted around the garden, offering unusual surprises in unexpected places. Birds welded from paraffin lamps hung from a tree, a rounded stone figure carved by Alpheus Mvula appeared next to a strand of bougainvillaea, glistening metal butterflies stood in a water bowl, hearts and birds floated in barbed-wire balls, and a spindly dog made its way over the pebbled ground.
I had been curious from the time of my arrival about the ‘resurrection curtain’ and the words ‘Life beyond the bones’, and now I took the opportunity to ask Hanne about their significance as the sun competed momentarily with the rain but soon gave up, defeated. She explained the symbolism of moving away from our conditioning and physical existence into being open to a new view and perception where creativity, angels and all possibilities exist and are available to everybody. When you walk through the garden, you have the ability and potential to leave the old behind and start something new.
And, as the entries in the visitors’ book reveal, that is exactly what happens. The feeling of peace and inspiration in the garden is acknowledged and respected by all who enter. One entry reads: ‘Thank you for a glimpse of what is possible.’ Another visitor wrote: ‘Your art (as in each one of you) not only tells a story about yourself and life itself. It also makes you think… Today I felt challenged to live more and survive less.’
Walking out of the garden over the puddles and the dripping plants and sculptures, I pondered the magic of the afternoon. Could it have been the stormy atmospheric weather, the artwork, the unusual setting for an art gallery, the water anointing everything in freshness, or was it just the garden? I couldn’t tell. I walked past Mother Earth, through the resurrection curtain and back into the everyday world.
This article appeared in the Feb’12 edition of FLAMINGO Magazine.