Bold, brash, colourful, unique, harmonious, varied – are just some of the adjectives that come to mind to describe the architecture and the works of Nik Spatari, founder, along with his girlfriend Hiske Maas, of the largest open-air museum in Italy, the Museum Santa Barbara MuSaBa .

But before I tell you about his immense work follow me in learning about his exciting life. Nicodemo Spatari, aka Nik, born April 16, 1929 in Mammola, Aspromonte, a remote village in the province of Reggio Calabria. This land, through which passed, Etruscan, Greek and Roman, will be the starting point but above all, the return of the artistic experience of Spatari.

Spatari at twenty felt the need to know the cosmopolitan European lifestyles so he left his beloved Calabria and began to cross the whole of Europe. He lived in Paris and Lausanne, the nerve centers of art where he gained knowledge from the most influential artists of the mid 20th century. As he tells us:

“The friendship and experience that bound me to the great period of my distant and dense Paris years: Picasso, Cocteau, Max Ernst, Le Corbusier, also allowed me to read the archives of the Sorbonne. I found out what I wanted: the true individuality, the humus and culture of my native land, which was called Italy and Calabria”.

Architecture and sculpture dream

All his works appeared as if modeled by giant hands. His architecture seemed to result from the elaboration of the extraordinary forms, unpredictable and dreamlike. They are made using various materials: bricks, local stone, ceramic, glass, wood. The feeling is to break into a fabulous environment with continuous and exciting surprises. A park that is experienced physically and touched materially: it is an experience that explores the feelings, which involves the soul and the body.

Organic architecture, that sprang from the imagination and the inner needs of Nik Spatari, finds an unusual language where intuition and imagination are intertwined with reason. It portrays a direct religiosity, a devotion to nature and an ardent love for his land.

Musaba – Museum Santa Barbara

We can say that Spatari re-created Mammola his promised land. In more than 40 years, from a “no man’s land” he has created an artistic haven, building the Santa Barbara Museum Park, Musaba. In 1969, the environment was degraded and violent, an abandoned place. It took several restoration works to preserve the history and relics from the past, and to connect them to the present contemporary world.

MuSaBa Park covers 7 hectares. Travelling around it you meet the monumental site-specific works, the recovery and architectural modifications of the former railroad station Calabria-Lucania, the construction of the guesthouse and the new wing annexed to the museum the “Rose of the Winds.”

Spatari prefers to define Musaba more than a museum as a construction workshop that will never end, as the light never ends, as imagination, wind, art. With his work he has expanded the expressive possibilities of craftsmanship. Here students can learn through practice, and Spatari good-naturedly scolds the new generation for their inability to be able to do manual trades, such as foreman or carpenter.

The symbols

This park is not only a place to rediscover the manual arts, it is a cure for the soul: time expands and you live in another way. An experience that touches all five senses. Spirituality and mysticism permeate his works dotted with symbolic motifs complex: zodiac and theological symbols.

The Bible is the great book for Spatari. He read and reread, and represented in thousands of his works. Myths and legends, gods and people, sin and salvation, trespass and conversion. A story of men and women who live the adventure of life overcoming a thousand obstacles and winning many battles.

The history of man is in the small pieces of the infinite mosaic related by Spatari along the walls of the Guesthouse of Musaba: from the Sumerian civilization to the resurrection of Christ, through the Old Testament. Certainly this monumental mosaic is more complex and cogent than contemporary Italian art and the dream of Jacob.

Jacob’s Dream

Jacob’s Dream is a work of art 14 meters long, 6 meters wide and 9 high. It covers the apse and the vault of the former church of Santa Barbara. Everyone knows it as “the Sistine Chapel of Calabria”.

The artistic technique is an invention of Spatari: the figures are cut out on sheets of wood, and then painted and then applied as pads suspended in the air. Light aircraft flying low reliefs. Jacob is a man obsessed with the double: his twin, the two wives, his two serves, the two countries, the two lands. Jacob is Nik and Nik is Jacob.

“Jacob, to me, is a man like that. To dream, wander in the spaces of the unpredictable, in search of himself and of the world around us; love, fight, tomorrow, the infinite imagination”.

Dostoyevsky said that “Beauty will save the world”. Nik Spatari certainly saved the beauty and culture of Calabria.

About the Interviewed:Nik Spatari


Painter, sculptor, architect among the greats of the twentieth century founded the MuSaBa - Museum Santa Barbara