Joburg’s Ever-Shifting Paint Canvas

by | Jun 18, 2014 | Arts and Culture, Johannesburg, Johannesburg City Centre, Tours | 22 comments

Last weekend I went on a graffiti tour with Past Experiences. I should have done this a long time ago. Graffiti is a huge deal in Joburg and I love photographing it. I haven’t blogged about it enough.

Past Experiences offers several types of graffiti tours in different parts of town, and they even host graffiti workshops. (I’m going to stick to taking pictures, as I can hardly write my name in bubble letters.) Our particular tour wound through Newtown, one of Joburg’s most prolific graffiti neighborhoods.

In addition to Jo, our Past Experiences guide and resident graffiti expert, the tour also included two professional graffiti artists, Mars and Bias. Mars and Bias showed us some of their own work and provided insight into the city’s graffiti culture.

Newtown face

The start of our tour. These wooden heads are all over Newtown.

While I’ve always enjoyed and admired graffiti, before this I knew very little about what it means or how it’s created. I learned a lot on the tour, but I don’t want to go into too much detail because I’m afraid of getting things wrong. The graffiti world is complicated and there is a lot of lingo.

And as usual, I missed a lot of the interesting explanations because I kept wandering off to take photos. Anyway, I’ll do my best.

Bias mural

This is the first area we visited, near the M1 overpass next to the Bassline Club. The mural was painted by Bias and the “tags” on the small pillars belong to Mars. Tags are like signatures — every graffiti artist has his or her own tag. It takes some looking, but this mural actually spells “Bias”.

From the Bassline we walked across Mary Fitzgerald Square to Museum Africa. The area next to the museum, under the overpass, is one of Joburg’s biggest graffiti spots. All of the pillars under the highway are painted with eye-popping murals.


This is Raymond. He sells cigarettes and sweets under the overpass, at a little table leaning against one of the murals.

Unfortunately this part of Newtown is now in the midst of a major transformation, as a giant shopping/office/residential complex called Newtown Junction is being built next door. The graffiti is still there but I’m not sure how much longer it will survive.

Newtown workman

There used to be nothing but graffiti here. Now there are lots of bulldozers, workmen, mud puddles, and piles of bricks.

Africa Calling

Africa Calling.


The bad news is that the construction is engulfing the beautiful graffiti. The good news is that the construction is bringing business to an area that needs it. This is Ladipa, who comes from a town called Butterworth in the Eastern Cape. She sells coffee, tea, and food to the construction workers and other passersby. Unfortunately she was out of coffee that morning. The meat frying on her portable stove smelled delicious.

We walked around some of the surrounding streets, which also have tons of graffiti and are still relatively untouched by the construction.


I can’t remember the name of this street. It’s just west of Museum Africa, toward Fordsburg.


According to my friend Mr. Baggins, a legendary Joburg graffiti enthusiast, the artist who painted this is Kevin Love. His niece’s name is Kiki.

Hair on fire

Hair on fire. Painted by Mars.


A piece of one of Bias’ murals.

I'll get you

See where it says, “I’ll get you”? This is an example of one graffiti artist hating on another. As I understand it, the “I’ll get you” guy painted a “throw-up” — a quick message that is somewhere between a tag and a mural — over the other guy’s picture, basically just to be mean. 

We finished our tour on Pim Street, one of my favorite streets in Joburg. It’s straight out of a scene from the Wild West.

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset

Pim Street. I actually didn’t shoot this on the tour — it’s from a couple of weeks ago. There is a cool gallery/art studio on Pim Street called Two by Two, where Past Experiences holds its graffiti workshops. 

Pim Street has great graffiti and also some interesting historic buildings. There is a birdseed manufacturer, called D. Kingsbury, which has been there for 100 years. The owners welcome graffiti on their building, but only murals depicting birds.

Spray paint bird

D. Kingsbury. I think this mural was painted by Juliet, who runs the Two by Two art studio. 


Also by Juliet.

It occurred to me on this tour that graffiti is much like blogging. A graffiti artist paints — or “writes” — on a wall, which is basically a blank canvas. He can say anything he wants, however he wants, and be as creative as he wants. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. And he can always go back and change it later.

The only difference is that a graffiti artist doesn’t have a password to protect his wall from other people who want to change or delete his work. That part must really suck.

Expect more 2Summers graffiti posts in the future, as I’ve now been hooked.

To book a tour with Past Experiences, email

I'd rather be...Me too, buddy. (Painted by Mars.)


  1. chris

    Very cool!

    • 2summers

      Thanks! I suspect this comment is actually from Alissa because I don’t think Gary would ever use an exclamation point. (Haha.) Anyway, thanks so much for the update and I’m thrilled that Gary is doing well. He deserves it. I shared the Fox story on FB.

  2. Sine

    I didn’t nearly get around Joburg as much as you have done, what with kid activities around the clock and all that, but I did do a graffiti tour with Past Experiences and absolutely loved it! I also blogged about it and will post the link here, because I think what’s so cool about it (but also frustrating for the artist, as you point out) is that it constantly changes. So the pictures you have (I think I have pics of those same pillars where you started the tour) are very different from mine. Here it is:

    • Sunshinebright

      Great post. I’m becoming more dependent on your blog to see a part of the world I know I will never get to see. Your graffiti photos are amazing. I also clicked on to the link on Sine’s comment. It’s worth a look, I must say. Thanks for this tour!

      • 2summers

        You’re quite welcome, glad you enjoyed it. I really appreciate your comments!

      • Sine


    • 2summers

      Interesting reading that! Seems like an eternity ago and yes, that part of Newtown has really changed (mostly in the last few months since the construction got going). It’s funny…I’ve also been wondering why there don’t seem to be many black graffiti artists in Joburg. I’m going to look into that.

  3. Kathryn McCullough

    God, I’m a HUGE fan of street art, and we have some great stuff here in Cuenca, as well. LOVE your photos, Heather!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    • 2summers

      Thanks Kathy, yes, I think I remember your post about street art. It seems to be taking the world be storm lately.

  4. Becky

    Graffitti is not a respectful enough word to tag these beautiful and complex art pieces. They are amazing and unique works of art that substitute brick and concrete for a canvas. Bold and attention grabbing, these expressions are better than any gallery I have ever attended. Thanks for the display and awakening.

    • 2summers

      Thanks Becky, great comment. I hope you’re doing well. xx

  5. Eugenia Parrish

    I’m so glad that people are recording these magnificent works of art. Their “canvasses” too often get destroyed or “city-improvemented” and so casually! When they’re gone — well, future works won’t be exactly the same. Even L.A. eventually started to realize that it isn’t defacement, it’s artistic expression that cannot be replaced when it’s gone. I know that, like a rose, graffiti has a finite lifespan, but like the rose, we should let it fade gently away, not trample it underfoot.

  6. MiaMusings

    You have captured the art beautifully. I did the same tour with Past Exp in Dec last year, and all of the graffiti has changed, as expected. As you rightfully mentioned -the artists cannot really preserve them. I also went through Sine’s link. Interesting to see the variations over the last three years. Here is the link to my post and pictures

    • 2summers

      Thanks so much, Mia. Just had a quick look at your post — love the pics.

  7. rickymarima

    The road who’s name you can’t remember is Gwigwi Mrwebi Street, I was there a couple of weeks ago & it inspired me to start an Instagram page to curate Joburg street art. Check out @streetartjoburg.

    • 2summers

      Thanks Ricky. I was looking at the area on Google Maps when I wrote that post, but couldn’t tell for sure if that street was Gigi Mrwebi.

  8. Firefly - Jonker

    There should be more street art and public art all over the place.


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