In the remote South African town of Nieu-Bethesda, a mystical garden rises from a dusty, mostly deserted road. There, a jubilant procession of human-scale sculptures—of euphoric mermaids, giant birds, towering giraffes, and ecstatic prophets—meanders across a small plot of land. The figures appear raising their hands and wings amongst a sea of Queen of the Night cacti, which occasionally burst into white flowers.
But this Eden is populated with more insidious characters, too: men resembling hungry animals, owls with penetrating blue eyes. Above the strange, spellbinding parade, a hand-hewn sign reads: “This Is My World.”
The sign, and the sculpture garden that spreads beneath it, is the work of Helen Martins, who spent the last 31 years of her life transforming her home into a sanctuary of color, light, and fantastical creatures. Here, the dark thoughts that plagued her were soothed. Occasionally, however, they emerged in her work, endowing the Owl House—as she named her hideaway—with an eerie aura of disquiet.