Art@Africa’s owner – Impresario Dirk Durnez and sculptor, painter Johan Steyn have utilised their talents and worked together to produce the beautiful tale of Minki and the Sunbird.  Having seen a quote many years ago from Baba Dioum in New York, Durnez has always strived to incorporate a particular principle to the edutainment projects that he designs. The quote read “In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught”. The story of Minki came about due to Durnez’ deep connection to Dioum’s quote, alongside Steyn’s talent, inspiration and belief that art is a worldwide, universal language allowing the ultimate freedom of speech.

Having grown up in Pretoria to well-known Batik artist Louis Steyn, art has intrinsically been a part of Johan Steyn’s being for as long as he can remember. Although Batik was instinctively Steyn’s first artistic endeavour, as he grew and learnt about the world, he desired to ‘say’ more in his pieces. He began a career in engraving, finding particular interest in manipulating light and shadow to communicate form. A talent which prepared him for three-dimensional sculpting.  After gaining numerous awards for design, coin development and becoming the chief engraver of South Africa, Steyn directed his attention and fulltime dedication to painting and sculpting in 2016.

Minki and Frog – Bronze 32 cm x 20 cm x 58 cm H – 2022

The concept for Minki and the Sunbird developed and grew from Steyn’s greatest inspiration, nature and his home, South Africa. He finds stimuli in the diversity which nature offers and the abundance of fauna and flora in this country. From the draw of the veld, the ocean and sand, there is an endless supply of beauty in which to emerge. In this case stories told by game ranger and grandfather Louis Botha Steyn had a great influence on the work. Steyn sometimes spends months on end with his subjects to understand and capture their soul. This is something that worked so cohesively with Durnez’ design concepts, a love for what we understand and a desire to conserve what we love.

Minki and the sunbird is a tale about a love for South Africa and its natural splendour.  The work not only represents Durnez’ vision of conservation, Steyn’s talent and appreciation of the natural world but also reminds us that there is a bit of Minki in all of us. An innocent child who doesn’t understand conservation is integral to her environment but a trait that comes naturally to her regardless. This innocence is lost as adults. Unlike children, we often believe humans dominate the world and forget that we are simply just a part of nature. Much like natural disasters or global pandemics, Minki reminds us how we, as humans, are not superior and need to coexist in harmony with nature. She is a reminder that we must preserve our childhood innocence, take conservation seriously and motivate people to think and act to conserve this splendour and light before it is gone.

The piece not only encourages us to see and appreciate the light but simultaneously means ‘daylight’. Light has played a cardinal role in the creation of Minki and directly refers to the way in which light guides Steyn in his sculpting process. As his pieces gain momentum he uses light and not merely just clay as a medium to work with. A skill taken and perfected from his engraving days. The symbolism of light is carried further in this piece through the Sunbird. The Sunbird is often used to express an optimistic personality. Sunbird people focus on the positive, bright side of life. We have one freedom inside us that nobody can take away, the freedom of attitude in any given circumstance. The freedom to make a change.

Alongside Steyn’s sculpture of Minki and the Sunbird, Durnez will be presenting a small poetry anthology with illustrations by Steyn to communicate the story. This book will be presented alongside the sculpture on Thursday 20th October, 6pm at Art@Africa located in the Clocktower Centre V&A Waterfront.


Written by Briony Haynes

Left: Minki and Pangolin – Bronze – 2022 – 20 cm x20 cm 38 cm H
Right: Minki and Baby Rhino – Bronze – 50 cm x 25 cm x 38 cm H


Left:  Minki and Meerkats – Bronze – 2022 – 45 cm x 30 cm x 48 cm H
Right: Johan Steyn – Minki and Turtle – Bronze 22 cm x 46 cm x 57 cm H


Minki and The Sunbird – Impressario Dirk Durnez and sculptor Johan Steyn


Left: Johan Steyn Minki and the Frog – sculpture progress
Right: Johan Steyn – Minki and the sunbird – last checks in the foundry



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