When you reach the Eco-Shrine, it feels as though you’ve reached the edge of the world. There’s a sharp drop-off into the valley, with the three Hogsback Mountains in the hazy distance. It feels like time stands still here… the sky’s a surreal blue, a gentle breeze gently plays with your hair and the birds are calling in the lush gardens that are Diana Graham’s front yard…
We have travelled inland to the realm of the fairies – or more precisely, Hogsback. If you wend your way along the main street, and then follow the sign boards, you will reach the Eco-Shrine. I have used Diana’s own words in this newsletter, as I think it is appropriate…
I built the Voice of the Earth Ecology Shrine in 1995 and 1996 at Hogsback in the Eastern Cape. The shrine gives artistic expression to the scientific facts about the formation of the Earth and life on Earth. I felt strongly impelled to give visual form to my growing understanding of the new, but anciently rooted ecological vision of reality emerging in the world. I thought it urgently necessary to dispel the assumption of our global, technological, consumer culture that the Earth is primarily a resource and a background for human beings. I wanted to make a place which expressed the ecological truth that the Earth is a vast, inter-connected, highly complex organism of which we form an intrinsic part.
The first painting “Visualizing Earth’s Origins” shows the planet forming in a nebula, a vast cloud of star residue. Using gesso, seashells and rivers of liquid gold leaf, I depict early life starting in the waters of Earth. Life took to the air in the form of the feathered reptile Archaeopteryx. I realize that Science, by the nature of its discipline, lacks the vocabulary to fully explain and express creative processes. Therefore, in the paintings I try to impart not only some of the facts, but also my sense of communion with the deepest truths of our origins. I visualised the beginnings of life on Earth and attempted to express my awe and wonder at the story of our origins.
In the next painting “Earth Seed” I explore the geophysicist James Lovelock and the biochemist Lynne Margulis’ Gaia Theory, now accepted as Earth Systems’ Theory, which describes the Earth and all of life upon it as forming a single, self-regulating organism. Using the metaphor of a seed, I painted an egg-shaped universe containing the seeds of galaxies, the seed of Earth and of early life forms. I enclosed the concept within the perimeter of the Hogsback Mountains.
“A Gateway to the New Cosmology”. Those who pass through this portal are in a meditative mode. They are conscious of ego and its destructive role in our relationships with each other and with Earth. They seek new ways of being with the Earth. They honour the wisdom of those ancient peoples who regarded themselves as an integral part of a sacred Earth. The seek to build on this wise foundation. I have copied some of the trance images of the original inhabitants of this region, the Bushman / San peoples. Einstein described our sense of separate self as ‘an optical illusion of consciousness.’ Contemporary people are beginning to understand and experience the ancient truth that we are a bodily part of the mountains, forests, rivers and trees etc that make up the ecosystems of Earth. Consciousness of “Oneness with all Life” is growing and evolving.
“Lourie Fountain.” In this painting I moulded geological time upwards, out of the earth and into the open wings of the primeval Knysna Lourie. See the remnants of claws on its wings. Also see its close ancestor Archaeopteryx. By imagining a fountain-like form representing the development of each of the myriad species on Earth, one gains an evocative sense of the full meaning of the word ‘evolution’.
“The Eco-Baby”. This is a stylized view of a baby in utero. I painted a stained-glass window in the background to impart a sense of the sanctity of in utero life. To acknowledge the truth that we are kith and kindred to the many other creatures we so closely resemble in utero, is a pointer to the inter-relatedness of all life. This truth does not detract from the fact that Homo sapiens have powers and abilities not shared by other animals.
“The Ecological Self”. I moulded an image of the Earth as seen from space, into female form. She blossoms in the spring. In this painting I explore the concept of “The Ecological Self”, which reminds us that we are a physical part of the great eco-system, Earth. From this viewpoint we realise that we belong to the Earth, rather than that the Earth belongs to us.
“Interbeing”. In this meditative painting I tried to express a sense of silence and vastness and wholeness. I painted a heraldic image of the crowned eagle as a winged part of the mountains, which in turn are part of the oceans, solar system and galaxies. Perhaps the painting is a symbol of the conscious self-merging with universal consciousness. This is a visual reminder of Sir Crispin Tickell’s statement that “the universe is something internal as well as external”.
“The tree sculpture”. In November 2000 lightning struck the Redwood tree growing above the shrine and close to the house. It was split in two and the top was hurled to the ground where it stuck, the thicker end pointing upwards like a javelin. After recovering from the shock of the event I had the unstable parts of the tree removed and I carved what remained. This proved to be a good lesson for me in the possibility of transforming destructive events into creative ones.
One must expect the unexpected in the form of visits from other species e.g., baboons, cattle, monkeys, snakes, louries, tortoises, bushbuck, hares, porcupines, owls, eagles, herons, and know how to deter them if necessary. In 2009 monkeys or baboons broke one of the cement sculptures and a section of the cement frieze, while looking for ants. Since then, the monkeys and baboons are deterred by a siren which I set off by remote control.
Ian Georgeson (CEO of Cross Country Insurance Company) pictured with Diana Graham.
There is so much more to say about this quietly spoken, artistic soul – but we are out of space. I highly recommend a visit to the Eco-Shrine if you are in Hogsback. These images don’t even come close to doing justice to the beauty inherent in these artworks!
Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team
22 Summerton Dr, Hogsback, 5721
Diana Graham can be reached on email@example.com.
Be sure to confirm the opening hours before you plan your trip, as they vary, and the Eco-Shrine is not open every day.