Just an hour from Johannesburg, sprawling across hundreds of square kilometers of veld, lies a UNESCO World Heritage site known as the Cradle of Humankind, where many of the world's oldest human fossils have been unearthed. But while it may be an anthropological El Dorado, the Cradle is also emerging as an unlikely nursery for arts and culture. At its heart lies the Nirox arts foundation, www.niroxarts.com, a four-year-old arts complex built on land jointly owned by a clutch of prominent families, both white and black. Its aim is to help nurture a national cultural identity and establish an international reputation for South African art.
Nirox's residency program is the foundation's cornerstone and has included South African art icons like William Kentridge and Edoardo Villa as well as international greats such as Marlene Dumas and Auke de Vries. "Some may stay for weeks, others months," Nirox director Benji Liebmann says. "Some artists demand complete seclusion, others want the company of like-minded creatives."
Artists hold open-studio days while in residence or host formal openings once their projects are completed. There are ongoing exhibitions open to the public, as well as Nirox's serene sculpture gardens, filled with the works of its temporary residents.
While Nirox is the area's most ambitious endeavor, the entire Cradle is emerging as Joburg's weekend retreat. Cradle native Prospero Bailey likens it to Cape Town's wine country, a leisurely getaway close to the city center. Bailey runs the nearby Cradle Restaurant, www.thecradle.co.za, where diners enjoy sustainably sourced dishes as rhinos and giraffes stroll by. Equally stylish is the 14-room Forum Homini Hotel, www.forumhomini.com. Its restaurant is considered better than most in Joburg and its sybaritic spa is booked solid by Nirox fans on weekends. Talk about Garden of Eden.
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