As one of the youngest major cities in the world – it was founded in 1886 – and with almost half the population under the age of 30, it’s no surprise that Johannesburg is home to some of South Africa’s most exciting and innovative street art.
These are a few of our favourite pieces that we happened on while touring ‘Jozi’ with our professional driver-guide, who was with us every step of the way from our arrival and departure at OR Tambo International Airport.
A uniformed schoolgirl warms up in the winter sunshine between classes in Newtown, Joburg’s vibrant arts and culture precinct. You can visit the Bensusan Photography Museum, check out the Afronova Art Gallery, learning traditional drumming and gumboot dancing (first invented by miners who rhythmically slapped their rubber work boots to a fast beat) at the Drum Café Shop, discover the continent at Museum Africa or catch a show at the renowned Market Theatre – all in Newtown.
Digital editor, Angela Aschmann, with renowned South African author Nadine Gordimor at Newtown’s wall of Nobel Laureates. Her classic novels – July’s People, Burger’s Daughter and The Conservationist - brilliantly examine life under apartheid. South Africa has seven Nobel Laureates, including fellow apartheid-era writer JM Coetzee (Waiting for the Barbarians, Disgrace and The Life and Times of Michael K) as well as former president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
Johannesburg is home to the most hominid fossils in the world, proving that our common human ancestors – like Homo naledi - first evolved here: we love the idea that Africa’s is everyone’s home! During apartheid, black schoolchildren were encouraged to reject the sub-standard education offered to them with the struggle slogan, ‘Liberation before education’. Nowadays, young people are encouraged to improve their lot in life by studying hard and the slogan has become ‘Education for liberation’.
Maboneng is another cultural hub that is a lively mix of galleries, workshops, restaurants, bars and loft apartments. This work is one of several in the area and was painted in March 2013 by Ukranian street artist Interesni Kazki. It’s called Protective Magic and seems to be a take on how Joburg is a strange coming together of different worlds: Western capitalism (represented by the pickaxe, diamond and besuited white hand) is in conflict with the pull of African religious beliefs, the worker in the centre being influenced on all sides by both.
An inspiring work that reminds Joburgers about the importance of taking time to heal yourself, and the central roles that love, family, dreams and courage should play in our lives.
The Orlando Towers are one of the most recognizble landmarks in Soweto. All that remains of a defunct power station, the towers’ lively murals were designed by Janine Kleinschmidt, who was inspired by both the ordinary and famous faces of the sprawling township. The Soweto String Quartet – founded in 1992 by four classically trained black musicians who use Western intruments to make African sounds – are sandwiched between a black-and-yellow Metrorail train (hundreds of thousands of commuters use them daily to get from work to home) and a domestic helper, emblematic of the millions of black women who earn a living cooking, cleaning and childminding in others’ homes.
The towers also depict women warming themselves around a brazier – a common sight in winter – and Regina Mundi church, the largest black Roman Catholic church in the country and the scene of many clashes during the struggle against apartheid. You can visit Regina Mundi (which means ‘Queen of the World’) on a walking tour of the history of Orlando.
Just down from Gandhi Square, where Mahatma Ghandi’s contribution to South Africa is commemorated, is one of the country’s most impressive pieces of street art. Una Salus Victis Nullam Sperare Salutum can be found on the corner of Rissik and Fox Streets and is renowned artist Faith47’s massive rendering of galloping and fighting zebra (zebra may look adorable but the males attack each other mercilessly for the right to mate: routinely biting, stomping and ‘thwacking’ each other with their heavy necks and bodies).
The Latin inscription is from a poem by Virgil written in 19BC and means, ‘The only hope for the doomed is no hope at all’ or, in longer form, ‘The only safety for the vanquished is to abandon the hope of safety. Surrendering to the knowledge that there is no hope, can bring courage.’ The juxtaposition of a classical Roman poet with something as primal and dynamic as zebra somehow mirrors the seeming paradox of the quote. Creative director Donyale Mackrill is dwarfed by the mural, which takes up a city block and was painted in the deserted lot after a department store was demolished.
HOW TO BE AN ‘ARTVARK’
There are hundreds more pieces of intriguing, humorous or simply beautiful street art in Jozi – Go2Africa can easily arrange a guided tour in an air-conditioned minibus to take you to see some of the best pieces. Chat to your Africa Safari Guide about putting together a day tour with an English-speaking guide and see a side of Africa where blank walls come vividly to life.