As I float down a canal in the Netherlands, I thought I’d write a quick post about the Newtown heads. If you live in Joburg you know the heads I’m talking about — the hundreds of wooden sculptures lining Mary Fitzgerald Square and several streets in the downtown neighborhood of Newtown.
The heads, all 500-something of them, were originally erected in 2001. But over the years quite a few of them were stolen/vandalized/cracked or eroded due to weather. Joburg city enthusiasts mourned the heads’ demise.
Here’s what all the heads looked like until recently. The head in the foreground is badly weathered and the head in the background is gone completely. The decoration on the concrete plinths is part of a separate project by artist Food Baby Soul.
In 2018, as part of the Newtown Now! festival in July, artist Americo Guambe — who spearheaded the creation of the original Newtown heads — received funding from the Joburg City government and the Johannesburg Development Agency to do a major head renovation. Nearly 100 of the heads have been replaced and/or refurbished, and they look positively glorious.
The New Newtown Heads
Feast your eyes on these beautiful heads.
Artist Americo Guambe with one of the heads between Mary Fitzgerald Square the the old Bassline. Americo says he generally doesn’t make the heads to represent any specific people. By the way, Americo is a freaking cool guy and has an incredible story of escaping the civil war in Mozambique several decades ago.
I highly recommend taking a stroll around Mary Fitzgerald Square to check out Americo’s brilliant work. The new heads, together with some other new public art projects, have changed the entire vibe of the neighborhood for the better.
Also, if you’d like a head of your own, Americo has created a couple-hundred miniature versions. They’re for sale at the Spaza Gallery in Troyeville.
Yay for Joburg, yay for Americo, yay for the Newtown heads.