It has been a strange and fascinating time since I last wrote.
I have had to perform a rescue operation for a very special Zebra-Horse. We call him Hebra, but according to Wikipedia he may be referred to as a Zorse.
His mother is a Zebra who wondered into the property from a neighbouring Animal Sanctuary and joined our heard of mostly wild horses living in a very isolated mountain plateau camp. After a few years she gave birth to a foal or two.
It is hard to use the word “game” when referring to wild animals, because they are not a game. Nor a sport for mans entertainment. And nor do they live in parks: they are wild creatures that have never been tamed and they live on the earth- and will roam as they please. They do not abide by the rules of fences and boundaries. They live according to their own rules as they understand them.
Ordinary fences do not bother them. They just jump over them with their amazing agile bodies or in the case of the Hebra, they just bash through them.
This is what was making him so unpopular on the family farm where my sister and brother-in-law now farm cattle. After spending months in the freezing cold wind or relentless heat mending the fences that had been broken by floods and fires and other errant beasts, let alone putting up all the new ones they have been adding in a bid to intensify the farming operation, they were not impressed to find all the extra work Hebra was causing in his wild free spirited fence- bashing state. So they told some passing blogger that he was for sale.
On reading the blog, which I happened on one evening while browsing, I called my family and asked what it was all about. It turned out that they were at the end of their tether, Hebra had to go. I set about finding a home for him myself, because I wanted to make sure he did not end up as taxidermy or lion-meat, which were the other options on the cards for Hebra.
It is not a simple task finding a new home for a completely wild animal that lives on a very isolated mountain farm in the Sneeuberg mountains in the Great Karoo. He would require game capture- which means being darted with a tranquilizer by a vet at R2000 an hour and onto a special truck who would then have to negotiate the road which is like a rock staircase and is very far from anywhere. After a bit of research, I discovered that even though this beautiful creature seems so rare and unique that one would think he must be worth a fortune, the ordinary “game” farmer would not want him because despite his fiery hybrid vigour and beauty, he would be considered a “cross-breed” and would not suit their purposes. He would not fit into any of the categories. He would be an odd one out. It must be noted that a hybrid between two species makes him infertile, (like a mule) and there is no danger that he would affect the natural gene pool of the species they had on the land. Yet, still he was not wanted.
I wrote to a number of game farm owners eventually offering Hebra and his mother free of charge to anyone who could afford the transportation costs on condition that I be allowed to come and visit him once in a while. Aquilla Lodge was the first to reply: a luxury game lodge two hours from Cape Town and 7 hours drive from the farm. They have their own game capture truck and their own private vet. I made his mother, the Zebra mare part of the package, because I thought it would be kinder not to separate them. However none of this ever materialized. A permit, which was needed in order to move the equestrians from the Eastern Cape to the Western Cape was not granted, and so the whole operation has been stalled and we are back to square one.
The whole exercise has brought up a fair amount of issues.
Growing up on a farm in the Karoo in a conservative community, where it was a risk to be different from others, I really admired Helen Martins self-determination in creating her own identity as an artist (even if she did not intend to in any formal way.) She simply began making her own world, even if it did isolate her. Her Owl House, is now categorized (by art boffins) as Outsider art. She was isolated from her family and community but withdrew into her own internal wild world of invention where she found comfort and beauty. By doing this she created an exterior world, which has become her legacy.
As a teenager, I was greatly elated and delighted by the odd visits we would get on the farm from Beezy Bailey, who was the son of one of my mothers childhood friends. He was at art school in London at the time, but he would drive from Joburg in his painted car with his bleached hair and bangled arms, spend a night on the farm and in the morning, take me for a drive to see the Owl House, before setting off on his travels.
Beezy is 50 now, and I recently attended the launch of a documentary made about him. The feature documentary is called Outsider and turned out to be an excellent portrait of Beezy who has since become a well established artist and has achieved many great things. Despite his impressive social status as well as his training in art and the collaborations he has set up with some fabulously famous international artists and musicians, he remains alone and isolated behind his creations. He has been an outsider in his own land, like Hebra, not fitting into any of the categories properly. The documentary Outsider illustrates this very well.
According to Wikipedia Outsider art is art made by the insane. It is raw, naïve art. Self-taught.
“Those works created from solitude and from pure and authentic creative impulses – where the worries of competition, acclaim and social promotion do not interfere – are, because of these very facts, more precious than the productions of professionals. After a certain familiarity with these flourishing of an exalted feverishness, lived so fully and so intensely by their authors, we cannot avoid the feeling that in relation to these works, cultural art in its entirety appears to be the game of a futile society, a fallacious parade.” — Jean Dubuffet. Place à l’incivisme (Make way for Incivism). Art and Text no.27 (December 1987 – February 1988). p.36 Dubuffet’s writing on art brut was the subject of a noted program at the Art Club of Chicago in the early 1950s.
In the documentary, Beezy mentions most matter of factly to the camera crew as they observe him in his process of painting enormous canvases with wild abandon, that if he did not paint, he would go mad. And he adds, “mad as in committed.”
I found that very helpful. I have always been lead to believe that making art was self-indulgence. Strange, but true. Even though I have always admired others who just do it, I have not allowed it for myself, always feeling that I should be doing something else that seems more like hard work, because art is playing. And how can playing be work? Beezy has done so well now that his playing is certainly worth a lot to art buyers, so his playing has great Value. Value is respected. It is not seen as “mad” or “dangerous.” It is adulated and adored.
There are certain people, and animals who are born free. They do not fit into any category and cannot be comfortable in any institution as a result. They are born to bash down the fences and are usually not appreciated for it. Yet they persist and as they do, they create a new reality for themselves and others. And hopefully eventually despite the pain they put themselves through and the risk to their own lives, these unique beings are recognized for who they art, and appreciated. When that happens, suddenly they have value, and then they are worth something.
It is worth it if it prevents one from going mad- as in mental asylum? Sometimes it is possible to get very wound up when there is no creative outlet. I have seen a few friends end up in those places, medicated into comfortable numbness. It is frightening. I would rather be a wired artist than medicated flat.
These wild beings I am talking about, are born to bash down the fences and are usually not appreciated for it. Yet they persist and as they do, they create a new reality for themselves and others. Be it uncomfortable, or be it beautiful, it requires effort and usually they find themselves isolated as a byproduct of having disturbed the status quo. They break boundaries and create new categories. New movements, they are the leaders and ripple makers the ones on the edge. And hopefully eventually, despite the pain they put themselves through and the risk to their own lives, these unique beings are eventually appreciated. When that happens, suddenly they have value, and then they are worth something. But they need to be allowed or to allow themselves to be true to themselves, and to follow their instincts. Remain focused on goals. And be of a higher mind- not misguided by egotistic desires, nor put into institutions and medicated up to the eyeballs, or tied down with ropes. Something I continue to strive towards, by allowing myself to break on through. Eventually there will be value there. It will be worth something. That is what Quality is. It is interesting that again Hebra;s life is in the balance because of invisible boundaries and beaurocracy, which exist only to man, but not to nature. Although, deep down we are nature, but sadly, many of us have forgotten.