Welcome to Week 46 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit August House, a collection of artists’ studios and residences in downtown Johannesburg.
August House is a building full of artists.
I went last Sunday during one of the Open Studio events the building holds a few times a year. I ran into an artist friend who has a studio there (it seems nearly every artist I know either lives in August House, has studio space in August House, and/or is affiliated with August House in some way) and he was shocked when I told him it was my first time visiting. I now realize why.
Although I had never heard of August House until a year or two ago, the building has been an icon of the Joburg art world since artists began living and working there in 2006. There’s been lots of intrigue surrounding the building since then, with rumors of it being sold to property developers for low-cost housing, artists moving out and back in again, etc. (Read some of the history in this Mail & Guardian article from 2015, and another one from 2013. Fourthwall Books also published a book about August House recently, which I must read.)
One of the most interesting things about August House — to me at least — is its location, in a rough section of the downtown neighborhood of Doornfontein. August House is surrounded by dilapidated buildings, some of which are highjacked (illegally run by criminal gangs who charge rent without providing any maintenance or services like electricity or running water).
The studio of artist Toni-Ann Ballenden. The building across the street from her window is definitely highjacked.
Things are now looking up for August House. The current owner has had the building since 2014 and seems committed to preserving it as an “artists’ playground”, as the August House website says. The building is fully occupied and houses about 50 artists, and the whole area is transforming fast. I noticed a building across from August House, which used to be one of the worst highjacked buildings in the city, has now been neatly spruced up and has a large “apartments to let” sign on the front.
A Morning at August House
In addition to being an artists’ playground, August House is a photographer’s dream. The views are amazing, as shown above, with every window (there are so many windows) painting a different portrait of downtown Joburg. And then there are the studios themselves, each of which provides a figurative window into the mind of the artist who lives/works there.
The live-in studio of artist Sizwe Khushu Khoza. He made all of his personal possessions into a big, one-room art installation.
My friend Fiver, who matches the studio of artist Vusi Beauchamp.
Artist Bukhosi Nyathi, who perfectly matches his own studio.
Artist Sanusi Olatunji, who lives and works on a carpet of torn magazines and newspapers.
The huge, impossibly stylish studio of artist Sam Nhlengethwa.
There don’t seem to be many women artists at August House, but I did find a couple. This is artist and graphic designer Neo Mahlangu, who created an interesting exhibition around the theme of social media.
We watched an incredible performance by Oscar Buthelezi of Moving Into Dance Mophatong.
Follow August House on Facebook for announcements about the next Open Studios event. I forgot to mention this earlier, but August House is undoubtedly the best place in the city — by far — to buy South African art. The artists working there range from very young and up-and-coming to very famous and well established. There are incredible deals to be had.
August House is at 76 End Street, Doornfontein. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.