Talented Artist James Delaney has secretly been working on various projects that have brought life into some of Joburg’s public green spaces…
Joburg Artist James Delaney had a goal to reclaim the Wilds of Johannesburg. He started with a project of building owl sculptures for the trees but the project has grown and all the images he is sharing, showing the new area will make you proud.
“Reclaim The Wilds on Sunday…
I’m often asked these days about The Wilds – can anyone visit? is it safe? why did I get involved?
Even the Mayor’s office is getting intrigued, and have asked me to take part in A Re Sebetseng (his clean up the city campaign) this weekend.
So on Sunday 26th, 8-12, bring your kids and dogs and reclaim Joburg’s most beautiful – but long forgotten – green space. There will be coffee at the main entrance. Please bring soft drinks, biscuits & snacks so I can give a party to the staff who work there.
Dogs need leashes, and poop bags (we’ll be strict on this – we’re trying to clean up our city here not make more mess).”
James then shared how the project started and how his passion for it increased over time. The project was a self-funded one that took around three years before others took notice.
“So, the story is simple. My back windows look into a 40-acre forested park which nobody visited. They were scared. I got a dog, so that made me less scared, and he needed walking. So I ventured in and found a wonderland of beautiful indigenous trees and stone pathways and views. But it was awfully overgrown. The most dangerous thing was a dead tree falling on your head.
So with my helper Thulani we started clearing out dead wood, pruning trees, letting the light onto flowers below, and opening up lines of sight to make it feel safer. We started about 3 years ago (I wish I’d taken more “before” pics but I didn’t realise the impact it would have).
My friends still wouldn’t come, so I came up with the idea of the owls – 67 sculptures in a century-old yellowwood forest for Mandela Day. They’re still there, quietly hidden in the canopy. Spend some quiet moments there and you can count them all.”
The project grew and people started getting involved in repainting benches and cutting back overgrown vegetation. The public started returning to the Wilds and James was there to take the pictures of them.
“We had volunteers days, and good people like Eben Keun, Christopher Lenferna, Joe Leshoka LeGate, Marianne Fassler, Thonton Kabeya, Ted Botha and others came to chop, clear, paint & lend a hand. And explore, with eyes wide at the beauty of the place.
“Some lovely stories came out – Chris went to stock up at his hardware store; when the guy heard what we did he said: “help yourself to everything you need, it’s on me”. An elderly Killarney resident recognised volunteer Aubrey Ngabende at Pick ‘n Pay and paid for all his groceries to thank him.”
The projects have become even more exciting with bright colours and pop-up libraries. The park has now seen an influx of tours and educational groups as well.
“I got bolder; City Parks hadn’t painted the benches in 20 years, and they would only give me a miserable amount of miserable green paint – so I went bold & ordered 20 tins of bright colours. Douglas Mason, Jeremy Cleaver, Simon Delaney, Thonton Kabeya Art, Mark Arnold and Sunaina Lakha etc brought brushes.”
“Amazing that such a small thing can transform a park – pops of colour brighten the place and attract people. I’ve started photographing them as they return to the park, it’s lovely to see.”
“Now ideas are coming from others – Derek Smith installed a mini-library, Gail Scott Wilson decorated a tree, foodbabysoul (check her out on instagram) is sewing madly bright decorations for the entrance, Eben did signage for the owls, Roedean brought a tour of 75 girls, Brett McDougall brought the Joburg Heritage Foundation, and even the Rand Club are coming on Sunday.”
“Even City Parks have organised a tour!!”
James still has lots of work to do but thankfully he is no longer alone. The future of the Wilds is looking green, clean and filled with colour. Reclaiming Joburg’s green spaces is exactly what people need.
“Lots more to do, which I’m tackling – getting the waterfalls and ponds working again, fixing the greenhouses (and getting Wits students in there) and working on the East Wilds (which is wilder). There are duiker & klipspringer sculptures now and a pangolin, I’m working on monkeys and a life-size giraffe.”
James only has one request from the public and it is an important one! He doesn’t want his hard work to disappear back into the tangled vines and overgrowth that once was the Wilds.
“So then the question – is it safe? The answer: it will only be safe if good people visit, regularly.”
“That’s where you come in you. Bring your friends, your pooches, your kids. Bring gifts. And explore. It looks wonderful with all the spring green. If you’re a keen pruner, painter or planter keen to do some work – let me know.”
“We’ve done this work to open up the space, so it can be enjoyed and shared. Please come.”
You can contact James on his Facebook page for more information. See some of the amazing images of the park below.