Johannesburg, South Africa is a destination which is experiencing increased popularity, reinventing itself into an exciting and attractive proposition for travellers.
Graffiti has also come a long way in recent years; once viewed as the handiwork of undesirables and vandals, many street artists are justifiably receiving worldwide acclaim for their stunning often building sized creations.
There is plenty to experience, especially for those willing to put aside any preconceptions and explore a city once considered unsafe. The residents are friendly and rightly proud of their city, it has become a vibrant and lively destination. There are still issues that need addressing but it is a work in progress that is blessed with a number of impressive projects.
Street art is an especially popular project with numerous creations throughout the city, a good fit for the City of Gold. They are often colourful, many are very high quality and most add a great deal to the cityscape; innovative, artistic and vibrant street art is surely preferable to dull building walls.
There is great potential for further artistic enhancement of the city, with hundreds of blank ‘canvases’ just waiting for an ambitious artist to use their palette of spray paints, adding their individual brand of creativity. This is my kind of art.
Street art can enhance the aesthetic appeal of any city. When effectively blended with other innovative artistic projects such as those in Johannesburg it becomes even more attractive.
Entering the cultural precinct of Newtown, it is almost impossible to miss the hundreds of wooden figurines which sit on top of concrete plinths seemingly everywhere. It is a collaboration of four talented artists, Simon Guambe, Petrus Matsolo, Dan Guambe and Joe Matola. Each sculpture is a unique creation, their design appears tribal and symbolises the diversity of the migrants accepted into Newtown for many centuries. The 560 busts which form regimented lines in numerous public places are a great concept and add an unusual dimension to the public art of Johannesburg.
One of the most ambitious projects is the “Arts on Main”; inner city exhibitions of literature, film and contemporary art which are enlivening districts including Maboneng, the “Place of Light”. Warehouse space has been given over to studios and galleries enabling artists to create, display and sell their creations. It also provides space for dance or music performances, photography displays, film screenings, poetry recitals and lectures providing a cultural hub and breathing life into the developing city centre.
An unexpected surprise found when touring the city was discovering a line of canvas paintings displayed on an otherwise nondescript building. Each one was different but there appeared to be a distinct theme; young, upwardly mobile people provided the subject for the pictures of this contemporary street art gallery. There was insufficient time on the walking tour to really examine each one, but even at a glance they all appeared bright and fresh, I really enjoyed the unexpected exhibition.
In “Pigeon Square” there are even a series of sculptures which are dedicated to pigeons; 3 large steel sculptures signify origami pigeons and are home to hundreds of cooing birds. They fit well with this friendly city which is fond of a bird that is considered vermin in almost every other major conurbation in the world.
Our tour group was treated to another pleasant surprise at the sculpture of Brenda Fassie in Newtown. The singer known as the Madonna of the townships, and acclaimed as one of South Africa’s biggest home-grown stars died in 2004. There were several people in the vicinity of the figurine, including a young, transsexual singer that provided us with an impromptu a cappella which seemed appropriate in this lively destination with its affinity for music.
My short time in Johannesburg convinced me there is plenty happening here. It is actually a much greener city than expected, but is still filled with galleries and fashionable shops.
The nightlife is lively often starting early in the colourful townships or Neighbourgoods market and similar cool spots. Continuing into the early hours of the morning, take a gentle hint though don’t sleep in too late. Leave plenty of time to explore and experience the great street art of this vibrant city.
*Apologies the images are not up to the usual standard, they were taken on a compact camera.