Art Classes with Donovan Julius
by Sakkie Nel, 26 September 2019
Donovan Julius is an artist from Suurbraak. This unique gentleman has stars on his shoes and a passion for his community. During the September holidays Donovan presented an art program to youth from Suurbraak and Buffeljagsrivier. If you recently passed through Suurbraak you might have noticed some of the other artwork that he has done with “his” kids. Not far from the VGK-Mission Church he used a house on the mountain’s side of the road to create wall paintings that shows you a bit of this artist’s affection and heritage – Captain Hans Moos (Khoi-leader and the father of Suurbraak) and Starry Night by Vincint van Gogh.
These art classes took place in Suurbraak during the September school holidays and was unique due to the fact that the material used for classes were free of cost. Free, not because it was a donation or provided by the school, but because it was supplied by Mother Nature herself. After a recent chance meeting (where I recognized him by his shoes) we started talking and he invited my family to join one of his holiday art classes.
Classes started at 9am and lasted 2-3 hours. Each morning had a different activity and location. One of these mornings the children used rocks from the river to build patterns and heaps in the river itself. On the Monday morning that we joined, Donovan planned to create mandala patterns in the Suurbraak forest. We met the 10 Buffeljags school children in Suurbraak. Two teachers from Mullersrus Primary, Alan Thomson (Head of Mullersrus Primary) and Rohan also joined us.
At the start of this adventure I noticed that one of the children was carrying a carton box. I assumed that it contained art material for the art-class. But I soon saw that the box was empty – it was taken along for any litter that we found along the 3km route to our journey's end. Donovan explained to the children that they should be thankful for the wonderful nature that surrounded them. He told the children (and grownups) that it was our responsibility to take care of nature. It was great to see how Donovan seized this opportunity to not only teach the children about art, but to play a mentoring role, handing out life-lessons like sweets on a Sunday. It was clear that the children had respect for Donovan and listened when he talked or gave instructions to pick something up.
Donovan led us on a path that passed an old water wheel and the dam that provides Suurbraak its drinking water. The last 500m section of the route was a very steep uphill that left most of us short of breath. Donovan wanted to hike a bit further so we could reach a cave which contain old drawings, but we were confronted by a big group of baboons. With the baboons inspecting our every move, Donovan started clearing the area and draw lines in the sandy soil. His first instruction to the children was to collect acorns and place them on the outer circle he had drawn in the sand. After that, they had to collect yellow, green and brown leaves. Then small white stones, thatching reeds and twigs. Two of the children were appointed as leaders, receiving and placing the material, while the others were tasked with gathering the art material. Every now-and-then you could see a kid losing interest and wondering off. Every time this happened, Donovan noticed it and applied the needed attention and motivation to get the kid focused on the task at hand. Simultaneously he had to make sure that the leaders were progressing with the project and not just ending up with a big heap of twigs and leaves. An hour passed, spent on collecting, arranging, packing and stacking. The mandala was completed with a final heap of big rocks. It was surprising to see something so beautiful appear out of nowhere. Random items, brought together to form something beautiful. You could see the pride and admiration on everyone’s face.
With the completion of the mandala, Donovan asked us all to sit in a circle around it. I was absorbed in listening as Donovan talked to the children about respect for nature and respect for each other. He then gave every person in the circle (children and grownups) the opportunity to mention something that they are grateful for and one thing that they are hoping for in the future. It was a special moment of sharing our hearts with the people that helped to build this beautiful artwork. This moment was concluded with a prayer.
After the promise of Vetkoek the children raced down the mountain back to Suurbraak. It was a morning of adventure, hard work, art and hope. Donovan talked about possible projects in the community that he is dreaming about. I only later realized that we never really talked about his own art – art that will see him travelling to England for 3 weeks this coming Sunday, 29 September 2019. This morning spent with Donovan gave me hope for our country. Donovan is a humble artist that cares about his heritage and community. Our family will be returning to Suurbraak to search for the cave and to enjoy some Vetkoek. Or maybe just to visit my new friend with the stars on his shoes.
Donovan Julius will be in England on a sponsored art trip from end of September 2019 to almost the end of October 2019. If you want to check him out: