Wooden Newtown heads in downtown Joburg

The Newtown Heads Are Back in Action

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.

Newtown heads in Mary Fitzgerald SquareNewtown heads in the center of Mary Fitzgerald Square.

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.

Old Newtown headsHere’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.

Wooden Newtown heads in downtown JoburgA line of heads in Mary Fitzgerald Square. The heads are made from old railroad ties, as are the new benches in the background (which Americo also made).

Artist Americo Guambe with his headsArtist 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.

Newtown heads and graffitiA new Newtown head with new Newtown graffiti.

Single Newtown headAnother head.

And another.

Newtown heads just before sunsetA long row of heads leading toward Museum Africa.

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.

Newtown head graffitiHead-inspired graffiti.

Newtown head sculpture in front of Museum AfricaColorful flags and a head-inspired metal sculpture, created by the Imbali Visual Literacy Project, in front of Museum Africa.

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.

Americo Guambe and his miniature headAmerico with one of his miniature heads. I’ll be getting one of these myself ASAP.

Yay for Joburg, yay for Americo, yay for the Newtown heads.

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  • Reply autumnashbough August 26, 2018 at 3:14 pm

    You’re right, the heads give the area a fresh, optimistic feel. Or at least that’s how your photos made me feel. The more art and greenery a town has, the more I like it.

    • Reply 2summers August 26, 2018 at 3:23 pm

      I’m glad my photos made you feel that way! This area has quite a few issues with poverty and crime but I think the new artwork will help.

  • Reply Hilton August 31, 2018 at 11:11 am

    Those heads add a quirky touch to the streets. I visited Johannesburg in 2010 and I thought it was a very decent city, though safety was a concern. I’m glad to see from your blog that the city has gotten more interesting and safer.

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