Open Air Art Galleries in South Africa

Open Air Art Galleries in South Africa

Art is everywhere if you look for it, not just confined to the limiting walls of an indoor gallery. No, in fact, there are many sites where you can observe art set against a wild, natural backdrop as opposed to clinical white walls which allows the viewer to feel closer to the subject matter, particularly if the work on display was created nearby, or if the theme tackled merges with the history of the surrounding area.

The history and culture of South Africa is long and fluctuating; at times it is disturbingly dark and at other times joyous and celebratory. We only have to look at the selection of museums on display to see this. But, instead of wandering around rooms that often lack personality, why not explore history and culture in its natural habitat?

Typical Outdoor Galleries

Many of the outdoor galleries display typical works of art like sculptures and paintings. However, they are exhibited amongst the materials they were made from, peeking out here and there from flourishing bushes and trees.


Take the Anton Smit Sculpture Park, for example, which sits on a sprawling plateau that overlooks the Bronkhorstspruit Dam, close for those travelling to Johannesburg. Here, visitors can wander through a massive collection of large, small, and quirky sculptures, as well as weird and wonderful installations. The park itself is worth the visit even if the works were to be removed because it boasts a glorious backdrop of rugged stone arrangements, impossibly neat lawns, and a colourful frenzy of exotic flowers. The natural beauty of the park combined with the sculptures offers visitors an experience that encompasses South Africa’s famous landscape and the established artistic talent.

Historical Museums

As well as aesthetic museums that work as a visual aid, there are others that focus on the history and culture of South Africa and how it has affected the nation. Here, we can look at the Nelson Mandela Museum in Qunu, which is particularly poignant at this moment in time. It nestles amongst the rural scenery of Mandela’s home village; the very spot where he celebrated his 90th birthday with the rest of the world. For the visitor who wants to find out more, there are a number of cultural experiences offered here, including guided tours that delve into both the hardships and joys of Mandela’s life, and heritage trails that take visitors right back to his childhood.

Living Museums

The museum mentioned above exhibit pieces caught in time – the rock where Mandela played as a child, the sculptures that do not evolve. However, there are a number of sites that allow visitors an insight into life today, as well as life in the past. These places are known as living museums and are a particularly real way to delve into the culture of certain tribes and are great for understanding how different groups of people work whilst you travel.

The Bakone Malapa Museum is one example, where you can explore the daily life and traditions of the BaSotho people. Visitors are welcomed with open arms and invited to join in, learning about the history and culture via word of mouth and from real, living sources. Here, guides become storytellers and the village becomes an educational video for those wanting to discover the journey that Africa’s people have taken to get where they are today.

As well as contemporary houses, there is a display of traditional homes dating back to the 1700s, carving out a visual chronological timeline in order to highlight what has, and hasn’t, changed. Visitors can opt for the full experience when they meet the local chief, try out some of the local beer, and participate in story-telling games and competitions, before checking out some of the traditional arts and crafts from the village.

Outdoor Performances


And it’s not just paintings, sculptures, and preserved villages that encapsulate South African culture. In fact, culture and history can be learnt about in a number of different art forms including performance. At the foot of the Cedarberg Mountains, visitors can experience the Bushman’s Cave Mountain Theatre, which has played host to numerous popular artists who have performed against a spectacular backdrop, bringing art, culture, and history to life in an exciting and moving way.

This guest post was contributed by Lizzie Davey. Lizzie writes about art and travel on her blog and for, a small travel company that offers a number of exciting trips to South Africa.

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