Ray Berman: Pine Valley's painter

The painter, Ray Berman, a South African struggle exile in Swaziland, has built more than 15 buildings around Mbabane, including the one pictured, his personal birdhouse. As Hundertwasser (his guru) said, the most dangerous thing in the world is a straight line.

A scraggly, excellent old man and brilliant painter Berman (70) keeps deadly pet snakes who live in the tree (“If they bite, you have three minutes”) and enormous dog-sized semi-tame rodents (“Watch it eat this avocado whole”).

Ray Berman, a South Africa-born painter living in Swaziland, has become one of the country’s best-known artists and one of the artists driving Swaziland’s art boom. His work is inspired by the traditions and environment of his adopted home.

“I’m making more money painting now that I ever did. It’s happening here. South African art is constipated—all so heavily loaded. Swaziland is wilder.”

Swaziland’s best known artist, Berman sold out his most recent show.

When he paints, he “speaks with his ancestors”. He says: “It’s about forgetting who you seem to be—the ego. The sangomas told me you have to leave the I behind. I’m a channel. The sangomas live that.”

Berman lives along Pine Valley, an enclave for creative types in Swaziland. His immediate neighbours include: a homeopath, a screen printer, a dressmaker, and a blues musician.

“Everyone’s an artist. The valley is an asylum without walls.” He points to the looming granite outcrop Sibebe. “It has to do with Sibebe—the oldest rock in the world—something magnetic that draws crazy people.”

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