Don your bicycle helmet, Ryan Enslin is taking you on an adventure through downtown Joburg. On a bicycle. Fun, laughter and awe-inspiring architecture are a given.
Our dearly departed Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu once said ‘Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realise fishing is stupid and boring’. I have never liked fishing, I tried it once when I was a kid and found it made my hands smell.
Cycling, on the other hand, has been a part of my life since I was a school-going lightie. And I have never stopped enjoying this fine pursuit. I remember the sense of freedom and much sought-after independence I enjoyed cycling to school and back each day, and going to visit friends when the mood took me. Much like I do today with my car. Except I was hardly a teenager at the time, and I’ve since left school.
So when the opportunity arose for me to go cycling with my new friend Kennedy Tembo, from Micro Adventure Tours, I was in. In fact, any reason to spend more time in the inner city of Joburg always garners a yes from me. It was to be a cycling and fine art tour, visiting both established and emerging artists spread around Joburg.
And man, do we have a wealth of creative talent, right here in the City of Gold.
James Delaney at Victoria Yards
The studio of contemporary artist, James Delaney, was to be both our meeting point and the first stop on the cycle tour. Working in print, charcoal, paint, photography and sculpture, Delaney has been shown in over 50 group shows and solo exhibitions spread across South Africa, the United States, England and France.
Here at home, Delaney has spent the last seven years rehabilitating The Wilds, a 40-acre urban green lung located on the edge of downtown Joburg. Using outdoor sculptures featuring various animals and owls, Delaney has created visual landmarks to draw people back to the once-neglected and abandoned park. Delaney’s installations have won awards from the Business and Arts South Africa Foundation and the South African Institute of Architecture, firmly placing The Wilds back on the map for visitors and locals alike.
Leaving Victoria Yards, we took a leisurely cycle through Bertrams, egged on by young children who stood at their front gates and waved encouragingly, as I, in turn, reminded myself to breathe. Seriously, the route is well planned and managed by Kennedy, who was joined by Prosper, a sweeper and general safety officer, as we navigated our way through the city.
Uphills were few and far between, and when we did encounter such travesties, even I could navigate them with my less than desirable level of fitness.
Siyabonga Mlambi at the Ellis House Art Building
Stopping off at Ellis House, in the inner-city neighbourhood of New Doornfontein and around the corner from the iconic Ellis Park stadium, we were greeted by Siyabonga Mlambi as we dismount from our bicycles. We ride the old lift up to the fourth floor to Siyabonga’s studio where he continues to beam and share his artworks with us. ‘I am inspired by life – colour is life,’ declares Siyabonga as he takes us through some of the pieces on display; bright, vivid colours in full use in all of his pieces.
I am intrigued by his depiction of a two-sided face in many of his pieces. ‘The faces are made in two different colours. They represent love to me, with two people becoming one in a marriage or relationship,’ shares Siyabonga, his ever-present, welcoming smile drawing me further into his visual storytelling. Siyabonga has been creating art for the last five years, much of which is inspired by life.
He proudly shares that his work hangs in five continents across the globe, as he continues to take his message of love to the world at large.
Stephen Langa at the Ellis House Art Building
Further down the fourth-floor passage, we meet Stephen Langa, who hails from the Limpopo Province and works in oils and charcoal. Stephen enjoys portraiture and often applies his hand to self-portraits.
‘I am inspired by personal tales from my life experiences,’ Stephen shares with me when I ask about his work. The next minute, Stephen moves around his studio with the grace and agility of a Klipspringer, retrieving samples of his work, then shoots out into the passage to proudly display them on the floor. The glorious morning light brings the art to life as I ask Stephen about one particular piece. He tells me it is a self-portrait recently completed after he was robbed on a nearby street and the sense of hopelessness he felt at the time.
Interestingly, I note this self-portrait has him standing in a bed of flowers. ‘The flowers remind me that there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and that hope can never really be taken away from you.’ Wise words from a young man, bursting at the seams with talent.
Leaving Ellis House we venture through the Real McCoy inner city CBD of Joburg, en-route to our next stop. Cycling past old buildings, many of which are sadly neglected, others not, I feel a deep, visceral connection with the city as I pedal along. People stop to talk as we diligently pause at red robots, enquiring about the rather left of centre sight our group presents. Patrick, selling banana’s, asks what we are up to, as he gears up for a sales pitch.
Joburg is alive with friendly, welcoming people, even in areas you would normally think twice about.
Conrad Botha at The Franklin
This stretch of the cycle took us straight across town, to The Franklin building in Newtown, and the studio of Superblur Art Movement champion, Conrad Botha aka Conrad Bo. Conrad has a studio on the 6th floor, at the very top of the building, which meant some pedal power was necessary to safely navigate the parking garage to the top.
Conrad calls his space the GOSMA – the Gallery of Super Modern Art. On other days it’s the MOSMA, the Museum of Super Modern Art. I suppose it depends on the inspiration flowing on any given day that determines the name. Into the GOSMA I stepped.
The Superblur Movement seeks to create art using the definition of the word blur (‘a shape or area which you cannot see clearly because it has no distinct outline’ according to the Collins English Dictionary). The focus of the art is to make the object or classification of the art unclear, or less distinct. Conrad uses the halftone dots technique in his work, which generates a gradient-like effect through the use of dots, varying in either size or in spacing.
Conrad also had an interesting sculpture garden at the back of his studio and wine on tap for visitors. Just what I needed to quench my thirst after all that cycling across town.
Teboho Makoatsa at August House
Leaving Conrad and the GOSMA, or was it the MOSMA – I was uncertain due to the physical exertion experienced that morning, combined with a glass of wine, we headed back across town to the artist’s playground, known to locals as August House. What was once a 1940s historic structure, today celebrates 15-years as an established contemporary African artists community and is within walking distance from Maboneng.
The unassuming Teboho Makoatsa welcomed us into his bright, open space. I immediately noticed a series of works depicting a young girl-child dressed in her mother’s high heeled shoes. ‘This happened one day when a cousin visited me with his daughter. Dressed in her mom’s high heeled shoes, she grabbed my paintbrushes and ran around the studio, all the while giggling’. Teboho says he was mesmerised by her ability to manoeuvre around, all the while having a good time. His first work depicting the scene sold almost immediately and he has continued with a series.
‘This series has taught me to observe and discover life through the experience of children. This very scene happens daily around the world and is often a point of contact with new people coming into my studio,’ continued Teboho.
He is definitely an emerging artist to keep an eye on in the not-too-distant future.
Leaving August House, and on a serious time trial, we pop in ever so briefly at the Living Arts Emporium, located within the Ellis Park stadium compound. The once-grand clubhouse of the Ellis Park Tennis Club has been transformed into a living art space, which houses artist studios and a phenomenal gallery, spread across the old viewing decks and Tennis Bar of the clubhouse. Art abounds but time ticks and we are forced to leave all too soon, having exchanged a few brief words with some of the resident artists, then we head back to Victoria Yards.
My cycle around Joburg was a wonderful morning spent exploring the city I love so much. Seeing her abundant art talent has drawn me that much deeper into her very essence, and allowed me to connect even closer with her unique character.
A big thank you to Kennedy for taking me on this tour. Kennedy is a master storyteller with a passion for people who runs a great variety of tours, not just limited to Joburg. Explore the Cradle of Humankind by bicycle, Cathedral Peak in the Drakensburg by foot or discover the Jozi nightlife. The options are endless.
Follow more of Ryan’s adventures in and around Joburg here.
Pictures: Ryan Enslin