Die Uilhuis in die nuus: Buitestanderkuns

Buitestanderkuns: Die Wonderwêrelde van Miss Helen en Outa Lappies

deur Melvyn Minnaar (gepubliseer in Die Burger, Julie 2017)

Afrikaans het die mooi, bedeesde woord vir “Outsider”. Waar die Engels die gevoel van afsluiting, afstand suggereer, lyk “buitestander” meer na ’n filosofiese beskrywing van iemand wat sku-sku nie presies by almal en die gemeenskap inpas nie.

Helen Martins, destydse inwoner van die mooi Diep Karoo-dorpie Nieu-Bethesda, was so iemand. Vandag, 41 jaar na haar selfdood op 78, staan haar huisie op die vaal, dor wal van die Gatsrivier as statige monument vir wat in die sewentigerjare bekebnd gestaan het as “Outsider art” – werk wat buite die tradisionele norms en grense van gevestigde en selfs aanvaarde kunsterreinne geskep is.

Bekend as die Uilhuis, is Martins  se beskeie, maar dramatise aangepaste woning, vandag ’’n internasionale baken van “buitestander-kuns”. Toeriste stroom van oral in die wêreld om haar wonderwêreld van voëls, engele, diere en kleurvol-glinsterende mure, spiëels en blink dekoriasies te kom besigtig.

Hulle word letterlik ingelaat in ’n hoogs persoonlike fantasie-ruimte, van iemand wat haar ganse later lewe in kuns omskep het. Niks in die huis of die agterplaas is onaangeraak deur die verbasende skeppende drif van Martins in haar ouer jare.

Talle publikasies het al die lig oor die Uilhuis gesien en Athol Fugard se toneelstuk The Road To Mecca is gebaseer op Martins se lewe. Juis vanweë die sprankelkleure van die huisie se binnekant en die speelse “kameel-agterplaas” met sy sement-optog, sterre en maan teen die heining, is dit ’n fotograaf se paradys.

Anne Graaff, een van die eerste mense wat oor Martins en die Uilhuis geskryf het, publiseer eersdaags ’n heruitgawe van haar meesleurende boek wat die stories van Helen en haar werkers, soos Koos Malgas en die omstredenheid met die dorpenaars vertel. Samantha Reinders het prag-foto’s geneem.

Vandag, in ’n wêreld verweef in kuns wat geen grense ken nie en kulture van heinde en vêr,  word die etiket ‘buitestander-kuns’ nie meer gebruik nie. Die Britse kritikus Roger Cardinal het die beskrywing in 1972 geskep toe die diegene in die kunsbedryf al meer aandag geskenk het aan skeppende individue wat as’t ware hul ganse omgewing en leefstyl aan prosesse van versiering of aanpassing wy.

Destyds het die Franse die begrip art brut gebruik, eral na aanleding van die kunstenaar Jean Dubuffet se werk. Ons Afrikaans verstaan dié word lekker as “rof” of selfs “rou” – wat aandui watter soort kuns dit is.

Graaff gebruik die begrip “mistieke kuns” vir die werkwyse van Helen Martins. Sy verwys onder meer na die invloed van die Oosterese mistiek soos dié van Omar Khayyam se Rubaiyat.

In ’n ander Karoo-streek was daar nog een so ’n ondernemende, toegewyde kunstenaar. As Martins onder algar op Nieu-Bethesda as “Miss Helen” bekend gestaan het, was Jan Schoeman by die mense duskant Prince Albert en verbygangers as “Outa Lappies” bekend.

“Verbygangers” is die regte word, want Schoeman was vele keere langs die pad, ’n afdraai van die N1, gesien mt sy karretjie en waentjie met goeters. Soms het hy sommer onder ’n Karoo-doringboom uitgespan en kon mense sy kunsgoed bewonder: borduurwerk of blikkies geverf en verander in waentjies, vuurtorings, klere met vere versier, alles bont en dinamies kleurvol.

Diegene wat gestop en met hom gepraat het, was beïndruk met sy wysheid van die veld en die wye landskap wat hy as sy woning gesien het. Met sy dood in 2011 was daar baie mense van oral in die land wat oor dié troebadoer-veldkunstenaar, “buitestander-kunstenaar”
getreur het. Hy het in optimisme gelewe.

Alhoewel Helen Martins op ’n nare manier haar eie lewe geneem het, is die meeste “alternatiewe” kunstenaars se werk kenmerkend van geesdrif en passie.

Nog so ’n Suid-Afrikaner-kunstenaar was Nukain Mabuza wat ’n geskilderde “rotstuin” in Matsulu, duskant Barberton, gebou het. (Fugard het ook oor hom ’n toneelstuk geskep.)

Beide Mabuza en Helen Martin word genoem in John Maizels se mooi kunsboek Raw Creation wat in 1996 opslae gemaak het met die 44 “buitestaander-kunstenaars” wat hy wêreldwyd gedokumenteer het.

Sedert die konsep van “buitestander-kuns” daar in die sewentigerjare ontstaan het, het die wêreld van kuns globaal radikaal verander. Destyds was dit dienlik om aan kuns styl-etikette toe te ken. (Toe Helen Martins haar Uilhuis geskep het, was Westerse galerye dol oor sogenaamde Pop-kuns.)

Vandag is daar ’n magdom media waarin kunstenaars werk, en daar is veel om te ontgin die die postmoderne kunstenaarwêreld. As die begrip effe sy waarde en trefkrag verloor het, is dit nietemin nuttig om te onthou watter betekenis mense soos Mabuza, Schoeman en Martins in hul onderskeie gemeenskappe gevestig het.

 

 

The near demise of the Owl House

Did you know that the Owl House was almost destroyed and refurbished as municipal offices some years ago?

The story goes that Helen Martins’ precious Owl House nearly met its early end when the local municipality, who owns the property, was looking for a new office building and management considered flattening the Camel Yard and using the property for this purpose.  They even went as far as to obtain a quote from a demolition and building company to calculate the cost of clearing out the yard, but as it was to be quite expensive,  the idea was abandoned and the Owl House was saved from a near tragic end – luckily it seems.

The Owl House and the property it stands on belongs to the newly established Dr. Beyers Naudé Local Municipality. The then Nieu Bethesda Municipality took ownership through an arrangement with Helen Martins’ family and the Owl House Foundation (OHF) manages the museum for the municipality.

But it was a close call for the beloved Owl House, Helen Martins’ legacy and the drawstring of tourism to the tiny village of Nieu Bethesda.

Ownership

The municipality gained ownership after Helen’s death, but it wasn’t an easy feat. She left the house and yard to her nephew, Herman Martins, in her last will, with instructions that it be kept as a museum. But, as it were, this document was never signed and witnessed.

Local lawman and writer Victor Dercksen tells the story of how he was approached in 1980 to handle the transfer of ownership of the property. This was four years after Helen’s death. “A piece of paper that was thought to be the deed of purchase was handed to me. It turned out to be only the donation of the content of the house to the municipality.

“The only way to lay claim to the property was to seize it for non-payment of taxes. But, as it turned out, some Good Samaritan had been paying the monies due all four years.”

It was only through the intervention of the MEC for Local Government in Cape Town that the taxes were returned to the said Samaritan, which paved the way for the “sale” of the house and an auction was set up. As planned, no one showed up and the municipality bought the house for the final sum of a full R10. Even though the municipality has changed names in the meantime, it still owns the property.

Day to day

Today the day to day running of the Owl House is overseen by the Owl House Foundation and a number of permanent staff, with the help and wisdom of an advisory team (also known as the A-team).

The OHF was founded in 1996 to draw local residents in as volunteers. PPC was encouraged to revive their support and they provided legal and logistical help in establishing the Owl House Foundation as a non-profit organisation. An agreement between the foundation and the municipality lead to the non-profit organisation taking over the daily running of the Owl House, including administrations, staff and conservation and renovation of the historical building and adjacent yard.

The agreement included the rental agreement, which has, according to previous directors, been reduced over the years.

The board of directors are elected every year during the Owl House Foundation’s annual general meeting. Members of the Owl House Foundation (informally referred to as Friends of the Owl House) are made up of interested and affected parties who pay an annual stipend. They can be nominated and elected as members of the board during the annual general meeting.

The board of directors of the Owl House Foundation continue to give their time on a volunteer basis to keep the Owl House and Camel Yard in the condition it is today.

Become a Friend of the Owl House by clicking on our contact page here!

It takes a village

It has been 41 years since Helen Martins, the renowned outsider artist and creator of the Owl House took her own life.

Throughout these years it took a lot of hard work and selfless volunteers giving their time and effort to keep the Owl House, as it stands today, intact and running.

Over the years, there were a myriad of people that have poured their heart and soul into keeping the Owl House in good repair. Not only keeping the everyday wear and tear at bay, but making sure that the administration is in order. This means that today, the Owl House shows a profit and have grown to such an extent that they can employ a number of local residents.

But it takes a village to keep it alive.

This blog will focus on all the good deeds of these people, while looking at some interesting facets of Helen Martins’ life and times.

Make sure to follow our blog to get a biweekly update on the Owl House and Helen Martins.