Olatunji Sanusi, artist at August House

#Gauteng52, Week 46: Open Studios at August House

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.

Outside of August HouseAugust House, a 1940s-era Art Deco building on End Street. The building housed light industry before it became an artists’ residence.

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).

View from front window of August HouseA view through one of the front windows of August House. Things look pretty good in this direction, but I’m guessing the street was cleaned up in preparation for the Open Studios event.

Toni-Ann Ballenden studioThe studio of artist Toni-Ann Ballenden. The building across the street from her window is definitely highjacked.

Another view from August HouseAnother view.

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.

Sizwe Kushu Khoza studio at August HouseThe live-in studio of artist Sizwe Khushu Khoza. He made all of his personal possessions into a big, one-room art installation.

Fiver in Vusi Beauchamp's studioMy friend Fiver, who matches the studio of artist Vusi Beauchamp.

Artist Bukhosi NyathiArtist Bukhosi Nyathi, who perfectly matches his own studio.

Bukhosi
One more shot of Bukhosi because he’s so damn photogenic.

Olatunji Sanusi, artist at August HouseArtist Sanusi Olatunji, who lives and works on a carpet of torn magazines and newspapers.

Studio of Sam NhlengethwaThe huge, impossibly stylish studio of artist Sam Nhlengethwa.

Maureen, wife of Sam NhlengethwaMaureen Nhlengethwa, Sam Nhlengethwa’s wife, with some of Sam’s work.

Artist Neo MahlanguThere 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.

Dance performance by Oscar Buthelezi of Moving Into DanceWe 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 76@augusthouse.co.za for more information.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.

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12 Comments

  • Reply foxtrotindigo November 16, 2017 at 9:24 am

    Definitely going to visit. Thanks Heather!

    • Reply 2summers November 16, 2017 at 9:27 am

      You’ll LOVE it.

  • Reply Richard Lindsley November 16, 2017 at 10:31 am

    Hi Heather, is highjacked like squatting as we’d call it in the UK ?
    Beautiful studios .. in that salt free and dry atmosphere it’s great to see how the crittall windows have survived. So elegant.

    • Reply 2summers November 16, 2017 at 10:37 am

      I know, those windows are just the best.

      Highjacking is similar to squatting, but much worse for the people living in the buildings. The “squatters” are actually paying rent to the highjackers. So these disadvantaged people who have no other option — often foreigners who have come to Joburg as refugees, or very poor South Africans who have come to the city from rural areas — are paying rent to criminals (who usually don’t actually own the buildings they’re “managing”) and living in squalid conditions. These are often industrial buildings subdivided into tiny, tiny flats (more like cubicles), with no waste removal, no functioning lifts, no services at all.

  • Reply Richard Lindsley November 16, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Oh sounds rough, I think squatters here just occupied, no fake landlords.
    Thanks !

  • Reply Gail Scott Wilson November 16, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Always on my to do list.

    • Reply 2summers November 16, 2017 at 3:28 pm

      Aaaaagh, you’ve got to go!

  • Reply Tumi November 16, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    If i had money to burn i would light a bonfire at August House. Thanks for the plug Heather.

    Oh, btw, your photograph from Carlton Centre overlooking Jhb cbd is hanging beautifully in our home.

    • Reply 2summers November 16, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      Hi Tumi! I’m glad you’re enjoying the photo.

  • Reply autumnashbough November 16, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    Those windows! So much light, no wonder the artists love August House.

  • Reply tenneymason November 16, 2017 at 8:16 pm

    Cant wait to see this next time I visit

    • Reply 2summers November 16, 2017 at 8:22 pm

      Yes! You’ll love it.

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