Nukain Mabuza’s Flower Garden - A National Treasure

18 June 2015 by Katy Johnson

The ‘Stone Garden’ of Nukain Mabuza may have faded in the 34 years since his death.  The grass is a little overgrown and the paint is flaking from exposure to the elements. Yet there is still a magic vibrancy about this very special place. A feeling you get, as you cast your eyes over his painted stones, that this was and will be again a great monument to outsider artists.

Photos By: JFC Clarke, Rene Lion Chachet and Jack van der Boogaard.

Go back to the 1970s and Nukain’s ‘Stone Garden’ was a visually striking landmark that drew tourists from South Africa and abroad.  Brightly coloured boulders for as far as the eye could see, adorned with Nukain’s trademark animal symbols and geometric patterns.  He described it as his ‘flower garden’, that if you walked to the top of the mountain and looked down the rocks appeared to be flowers tumbling from heaven.

What inspired Nukain to start painting isn’t known. In fact very little is known about this eccentric, brilliant man, who has gone on to inspire so many. Originally from Mozambique, Nukain spent his time working as a farm labourer and painting his rocks till the day he died in October 1981. What is known is that although Nukain had no formal artistic training, he had a strong and sophisticated eye for colour and pattern to which his ‘Stone Garden’ is graphic testament. His passion and drive would sometimes see him go without food in order to buy brushes and paint to create his art.

Sadly it was only after Nukain’s death that his ‘Stone Garden’ won the acclaim it deserved. Now his garden is considered one of only 44 environmental works identified by John Maizels as global examples of Outside Art. Only two of these can be found in South Africa, making Nukain’s garden a national treasure. This makes its current state even sadder, especially as the two attempts to repaint some of the rock failed to use the correct colours and paints. Still a handful of passionate individuals are trying to raise the awareness and funds to needed to restore and maintain Nukain’s Garden. Resurrecting Nukain’s ‘Flower Garden’ and transforming it into a monument to a great, internationally acclaimed, South African Outsider Artist.

While the Garden itself is only a glimmer of its former glory, it is still worth a visit, as it is still inspiring people from around the world. In 2006 a photographic exhibition was held in Winthrop University Galleries, Carolina, USA celebrating the work of Nukain and another outsider artist. More recently South African playwright Athol Fugard, winner of a Tony lifetime achievement award, brought Nukain’s story to life in his beautifully written play ‘The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek’ which showed in New York earlier this year and will open in Los Angeles later this year. Equally a trip to the Gold Rush town of Barberton, will give visitors a glimpse of what Nukain’s rocks would have looked like in their heyday. 


Information about Nukain’s Stone Garden

  • Nukain’s Garden can be found on the R38 between Kaapmuiden and Lows Creek. Although not signed it is approximately 7km past the sign for Boondock’s Mountain Lodge.
  • For more information about Nukain Mabuza visit his website: www.nukainmabuza.co.za
  • Alternatively contact Astrid Christiansson at the Barberton Information Centre: Astrid@barberton.co.za | +27 (0) 82 959 6670