Seychelles is renown as a ‘melting pot of cultures’ and the centre of ‘Creolity’, but there’s also a rich tapestry of artistic creativity scattered about this Indian Ocean paradise that attracts an eclectic mix of artists and sculptors, one of whom can best be described as bohemian.
In modern usage, the term ‘Bohemian’ is applied to people who live unconventional, usually artistic, lives. The word ‘Rhapsody’ is derived from the Greek rhapsõdos, a reciter of epic poetry, and refers to any extravagant expression of sentiment or feeling.
These two words sprang to mind when meeting Italian born sculptor Antonio Filippin, who had just stopped his chainsaw from gnawing away at his latest wood sculpture somewhere in the back of the property and refused to shake my hand until after he had showered and changed out of his work clothes.
I first met Antonio while covering the Carnival International de Victoria back in April 2014. I’d stayed at the Seychelles Kempinski Resort and asked my host what local attractions exist within walking distance of the hotel. “The pirate cave is a popular attraction,” responded Lashley Pulsipher, the Kempinski Group’s Regional Director of PR for India, the Middle East and Africa, who happened to be on location to meet the swarm of media attending the Mahé island’s annual event.
On a balmy tropical afternoon, with two friendly attendants from the Kempinski Kids Club as guides, I set off with Maritafa and Chantal for a leisurely walk past the beach sports kiosk and PADI dive centre, skirted the horse stables and ascended a moderately steep beach access road that winds beneath the forest canopy and loudly squabbling fruit bats, to arrive at a signboard that proclaimed our arrival at Maria’s Rock Cafeteria, Antonio’s Art Gallery Sculptor Studio, Pirate Cove and Nature Walk Fort m.Toupie.
The building in which these proclaimed attractions reside, towers above the road in a jumble of unconventional architectural styles, with natural rock intermingling with artificial rock-like curves, designed to represent a pirate galley complete with sails and skull motif and a steep stairwell leading up to a castle turreted structure with ferro-crete sculptures of a goat and rooster precariously placed alongside the stairs.
Freshly bathed and dressed in brightly striped shorts, t-shirt and yellow ‘Croc’ sandals, Antonio met me in the Art Gallery looking like a peacock with his signature crest of dyed hair neatly styled atop his closely cropped head of greying stubble.
Antonio’s distinctive sculptures are interspersed throughout the well lit and spacious gallery with paintings displaying a mix of styles and mediums, from oil on canvass to litho-prints, watercolours, gouache and acrylic on paper and canvas as well as pencil and charcoal, screen prints and hand-coloured paper and fabric artworks.
“The paintings are not my work,” explains Antonio in his heavy Italian / Austrian accent. “I just provide gallery space to showcase other Seychellois artists and to help them sell their work.”
I comment on what looks like an abstract self-portrait rendered in acrylic paint, and Antonio is quick to clarify that this vibrantly coloured and stylized piece of art was created by Hungarian born Zsaklin Miklos, who moved with her family to Seychelles in 2010 (see details at end of the article).
Antonio’s wood sculptures have a rough-hewn form that reflects a strong sense of sexuality, celebrate the female form, and intersperse with cartoon-like imagery depicting animals, birds and fantastical creatures. I ask if his art is intended to impart a philosophical message, but he is reticent in explaining, saying that “art is in the eye of the beholder — I only create what inspires me and leave the interpretation to those who view my work.”
His statement is reinforced as we depart the gallery for a tour of his Pirate Cove fantasy.
And what a fantasy it is! As Antonio’s enthusiastic young helpers, Michael Benoit and John Subana lead the way, we pass through the wrought iron spiderweb gate and after John has tapped the ‘secret’ code using the skull-knocker on the front door, we enter the first chamber.
Built into the hillside between towering sandstone rocks, which are a geological feature of Baie Lazare on the West coast of the island of Mahé, the Pirate museum extends over three floors, each accessed via steps and ladders through trapdoors to reveal chambers festooned with pirate bric-à-brac, from treasure chests to cutlasses, period tunics, animal skins and skeletons adorning walls and tucked into recesses.
Fantastical sculptures and cryptic messages can be spotted in every nook and cranny, while mechanically animated pirate, skeleton and spider models surprise and scare visitors at every turn.
Stories of buried pirate treasure have always fuelled the imaginations of the Seychellois, and Antonio’s creation taps into this fascination. Actual evidence of discovering great treasures is rare, but the stories make interesting reading. One tale is told of a discovery of a huge treasure trove in a mountain cave on north Mahe. The British governor at the time wanted to take the treasure to Britain secretly and came up with a plan to involve the British Navy, who happened to be in port at the time. He circulated a story that a smallpox epidemic had broken out in the area where the treasure was located and had the whole region quarantined. The Navy then went into the cave and brought back the treasure in coffins − supposedly the people who had died from smallpox. The treasure was then loaded onto the ship and safely sent back to Britain. As with all treasure stories, this tale should be taken with a pinch of salt! (Pirate story recited with acknowledgement to Green Palm Self Catering Apartments).
Antonio has been building on the property ever since he purchased it in 1992. The pirate museum took three years to build, and a lot longer to decorate, while his private residence took two and a half years to complete.
Antonio’s home is just as fascinating as the museum and reflects the artists' creative flair and passion for mystery and esoteric art. The front door is a work of art in itself. Inscribed in Latin is a verse alluding to Antonio’s arrival from the Alps to the rocky islands of “unanimous nature”, and living “at the time of the act” in his futuristic fortress.
Every detail in his home has been hand-crafted, from the gloss varnished strip-panel flooring to the creative lighting that draws attention to a spectacular central water feature. Carved pillars and objet d’art are evident throughout the spacious open-plan interior.
The master bedroom bears testimony to the mans’ egoism (the philosophical theory that one’s self is, or should be, the motivation and the goal of one’s own action).
His hand-sculpted bed, bearing the Latin inscription ‘cogito ergo sum’ (I think, therefore I am) is adorned with astrological signs of the Zodiac, and illuminated with flashing diode bulbs. Above the bed hangs an automated ceiling fan clad in a shiny blue suede material with gold tassels to match the bed-spread.
On the left-hand side of the bed, Antonio touches a section of the natural rock wall, which swings out to reveal an ingenious natural shower, where water flows over a protruding rock slab set beneath an open sky-light.
Having concluded the tour, I offered a 100 Rand banknote in consideration of the sign on the spider-web entrance gate, which clearly states 100 Seychellois rupees for the tour. Antonio declined, but when I showed him the portrait of Nelson Mandela emblazoned on the banknote, he eagerly accepted. I won’t be surprised to see this banknote incorporated into a piece of art when next I visit.
Before walking back to the hotel, my Kempinski Resort guides and I enjoyed a cool refreshment on the wrap-around balcony of Maria’s Rock Cafe, which forms part of the extensive building. I had a brief glance through the menu and noticed the restaurants' speciality − fresh meat, fish and vegetables served raw on wooden platters along with bowls of sauces and a flame heated granite stone slab, allowing patrons to cook their own meal at their table.
On the wall, I noticed a 2014 Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor (Glancing through some of the reviews while writing this editorial, opinions vary, but what does come across is the overall praise for amenity creativity and high rating of patron satisfaction).
In conclusion, Seychelles is more than a ‘melting pot of cultures’ − it’s a bohemian rhapsody with a distinctive style of creativity just waiting to be explored and savoured.
I’ve listed a few Seychellois artists below and can’t wait to explore these hidden gems on my next visit to paradise.
Artists and Art Studios in Seychelles:
Adelaide Studio. Donald Adelaide has been a professional artist for some 20 years. He works with watercolours and sells both original and print paintings.
Location: Baie Lazare, Mahé. Contact: +248 257 4853.
Gee is a successful watercolour artist. He came to Seychelles in 1993 as a fashion and textile instructor at the School of Art & Design.
Location: Baie Lazare, Mahé. Contact: +248 436 1649.
Antonio Filippin Sculpture Studio
Filippin was born in Italy and started his career in Germany as a sculptor-philosopher.
Location: Baie Lazare, Mahé. Contact: +248 251 0977.
Barbara Jenson Studio.
Barbara works in any medium that enables her to express her artistic talent and love of the islands. Location: Anse Reunion, La Digue. Contact: +248 4 23 44 06.
Colbert Nourrice Studio.
Colbert Nourrice is one of the promising young artists on the contemporary art scene. Location: Au Cap, Mahé. Contact: +248 251 9640.
Marday is well known for his work as an artist, painter, sculptor and model-maker.
Location: La Misère, Mahé. Contact: +248 437 8456.
George Camille Art Gallery — Kaz Zanana.
Kaz Zanana is a beautiful wooden Creole-style gallery and café showcasing the work of the local artist, George Camille.
Location: Victoria, Mahé. Contact: +248 432 4150.
La Comet Art Works.
Seychellois artist, Allen Gervais Comettant works as a graphic artist and sells original abstract paintings from his home.
Location: Maldive, Mahé. Contact: +248 271 6507.
Michael Adams Studio.
Adams style is hieroglyphic realism focusing on people in landscape and using eclectic sigils in the details.
Location: Anse aux Poules Bleues, Mahé. Contact: +248 436 1006.
Nigel Henri Acrylic Paintings.
Henri produces original acrylic paintings on canvas which depict cultural life in Seychelles as well as underwater scenes.
Location: Beau Vallon, Mahé. Contact: +248 251 2049.
Tom Bower’s Sculptures Studio.
Bowers’ bronze sculptures depict the beauty and serenity of island life and can be found in private collections worldwide.
Location: Anse à la Mouche, Mahé. Contact: +248 437 1518.
Born in Hungary, Miklós grew up in contact with the colours of Budapest and moved to Seychelles in 2010.