Protector of the Forest

Swellendam is a small village in the Western cape of South Africa. In 2017 we founded the Masbiekers Valley Project with the intention of creating an Environmental Sculpture Park. What started as an idea to combat alien vegetation became a mission to get people out of their houses and into nature using art as the vehicle for sustainable change.

My background is in art and education and my wife IT and sustainable development. With community engagement, donations of sometimes money and sometimes trees or labor we removed almost 300 bags of rubbish, planted over 800 trees, and have made almost 4km of walking trail, all in an area that was victim to the tragedy of the commons; abandoned by the local municipality and generally abused by the community.

In 2019 we were awarded a grant to run an environmental Sculpture Competition with the local schools. In Swellendam, art is not offered at the high schools and the competition invited high school children to submit proposals for artworks that encouraged them to THINK BIG. We ran workshops (in the amphitheater that we build with the help of local school children) and selected 6 artworks. We employed local people to help build the artworks and launched the sculpture park at an event that was well attended

Since then the valley has continued to be used and over time the environmental sculptures returned to the earth, some chopped down by woodcutters, some demolished by nature but people continue to use the space to exercise and enjoy nature, and slowly the interventions that we have made are leading to an increase of locally endemic species of trees and birds.

What has been incredible over the years has been the stories about that valley that have filtered down to me. People who played there as children, the history of the 'Masbiekers', and new stories from people who are using the space.

Funded by Awesome Without Borders (January 2023)