Thought street art was something popular in just the US and European cities? Though South Africa is a relative new comer to the graffiti scene, it is catching up rapidly. Joburg’s street art and graffiti scene is vibrant and and evolving. A street art walking tour is a great way to get explore the city’s emerging street art scene. From the graffiti gallery in Newtown, to studenty Braamfontein, grungy Troyeville’s and hipster Maboneng, Joburg inner city neighbourhoods are becoming a street artist’s playground.
I’ve always been fascinated by graffiti and street art. On a recent visit to Barcelona, I spent more time taking pictures of the graffiti than the Gaudi, (and I do like Gaudi). So when, with Joburg inner city tour company Past Experiences hosted street art tours as part of the inner city arts festival, I was all the first one in line. The guide, Jo Buitendach, is an an archaeologist by training, and is doing her masters on the graffitti scene in South Africa.
As Jo guided us around downtown Joburg’s streets, we came across pockets of graffiti that added splashes of colour to the otherwise grungy streets. We learned all about this cult of graffiti and street artists who were decorating the area as well as their specific styles and tags. Though most graffitti artists started their crafts illegally, thesedays they often get commissioned by brands for campaigns (think RedBull and Adidas) and even by city authorities as part of their public art projects. Our guide even mentioned that there has lately been an exodus of talent from Cape Town to Joburg because the Cape Town municipality is starting to crack down on illegal graffiti.
Some of the big names in Joburg’s graffiti scene are Rasty and his PCP Crew. Thinking of dabbling in some graffiti yourself? The GreyScale store in Braamfontain, run by Rasty, caters to the needs of Johannesburg graffiti artists with a huge colour pallet of spray cans and everything else an up and coming graf artist may need.
Joburg has even attracted some big names in the local an international street art scene. Walking around the Maboneng precinct, one is treated to the massive murals of artists ROA, Remed, Falko, Faith47 and Steve Espo Powers to name a few. Look out for the more descreet etchings of Hanneli Coetzee that pop up under bridges, or on the side of buildings.
Perhaps the best place to catch some of Joburg’s graffiti action is the informal street gallery at the Newtown flyover. Its a haven for Joburg’s best graffiti talent. The giant murals stretch from the street below to the M1 highway above, it really is a sight to behold. Its also a great spot to take phtos. On any given Sunday morning you will find young skateboarders honing their skills amidst a backdrop of bold murals, many of which provide social commentary to Joburg’s dynamic city landscape. What I love that Newtown’s graffiti gallery, and street art in general is that it is accessible to all and that its constantly changing. A mural painted today may be painted over a week later.
“Street art makes the city pretty… it allows people who would never have an experience of art to appreciate art in their everyday lives.” – Jo Buitendach