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’ .
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 – likeHomo 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.
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.
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There are hundreds more pieces of intriguing, humorous or simply beautiful street art in Jozi – and see a side of Africa where blank walls come vividly to life.