This post was originally published in February 2013, but half the post was deleted in 2014 during a website migration error. The post you see here is a reconstructed version of the original post.
I didn’t pay much attention to public art when I lived in America. I didn’t pay much attention to art in general, actually. I enjoyed the occasional museum visit but that was about it.
Things changed when I moved to Joburg. Art is everywhere here and I suddenly found it impossible to ignore. The closer I looked, the more I began to see and appreciate art in unlikely places.
A few weeks ago I went on a “public art walkabout” with Joburg artist Hannelie Coetzee. I’m grateful to my new email/Instagram pal Martha Cooper for letting me know about this tour, as I wouldn’t have found out about it otherwise. (Thanks, Martha.) And even though it meant venturing out into the city on a cold, rainy Sunday morning, I’m also grateful to have gone on this tour. Hannelie’s art is a perfect illustration of Joburg’s awesomeness.
Hannelie shows us “Hawk Here”, a commissioned mosaic she created at the corner of Henri and Jorrisen Streets. The mosaic is based on a photo she took in India. (Hannelie is an accomplished photographer as well as an artist.)
Hannelie’s art is difficult to classify, especially for someone like me who doesn’t speak art lingo. But I think the best way to describe it is part graffiti, part fine art, part sculpture, part photography. What I liked most about the art Hannelie showed us was that every work seems to be closely linked to its surroundings, as well as who Hannelie is as a person. Her works tell stories about Hannelie’s family and cultural heritage and they also tell stories about Jozi.
Our small band of art enthusiasts met up on the corner of Henri and Jorrisen Streets, on the edge of Braamfontein. From there, we caravaned by car around the city, admiring Hannelie’s art and trying (more and more unsuccessfully as the day went on) to dodge the raindrops.
The second work Hannelie took us to is “Oumagrootjie” (which means “great-grandmother” in Afrikaans), on the wall of a shop in Fordsburg. The picture, a mosaic made from pieces of granite and marble salvaged from illegal dumps, is based on a wedding photo of Hannelie’s great-grandmother. Oumagrootjie and her family moved to Joburg in 1908 after the Anglo-Boer War. They lived in poverty and survived by eating biscuits made from animal blood they begged from the butcher.
After Oumagrootjie we journeyed deeper into the CBD, to the Rissik Street Post Office.
The Rissik Street Post office is one of Joburg’s most historic buildings, but has been empty since the South African Postal Service vacated the building in 1996 and has since been damaged by two large fires. Hannelie received special permission to create an art work inside the abandoned building depicting her grandfather, who was a mail carrier at the post office in the early 20th century, starting from the age of 14.
Hannelie engraved an image of her grandfather into the paint and plaster of the wall inside the post office. Watch this fascinating video in which Hannelie talks about why she created the piece and what her process was.
UPDATE: As of 2016, a serious renovation of the Rissik Street Post Office is finally underway. Hannelie no longer has access to the building and doesn’t know what has become of Oupa Florie.
From the Rissik Street Post Office, we drove through heavy traffic to the Johannesburg Art Gallery, to see a piece Hannelie created in the parking lot there.
“Uitpak” is made of slabs of stone that Hannelie found in a quarry, and eventually learned had been discarded from the Freedom Park memorial outside Pretoria. The stones are engraved with hundreds of names of South African freedom fighters.
Our final stop was Maboneng/Doornfontein, were we visited one of Hannelie’s best known works — Ouma Miemie.
We visited a few other interesting things on this tour, as well as Hannelie’s studio in Maboneng. [2016 update: Hannelie’s studio has now moved to a beautiful space in One Eloff.] But I can’t find anymore photos, and my memory from 2013 is failing me. I’ll definitely be writing more about Hannelie’s work in the future.