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Inside Mad Giant

Five Amazing New Places in Downtown Jozi (not in Maboneng or Braamfontein)

Downtown Jozi is on fire. There are cool shopping, dining, and art destinations popping up all over the city. The Joburg Ballet performs at Joziburg Lane, one of downtown’s newest destinations, on its opening weekend. Regeneration in Joburg’s inner city is nothing new: Exciting stuff has been happening downtown since I moved to Joburg in 2010, and long before that. What’s different about the last year or two — and especially the last six-to-eight months —  is that inner-city regeneration is no longer largely limited to the hipster hubs of Maboneng and Braamfontein. Urban renewal is everywhere and it’s becoming easier to travel between all the new restaurants, shops, and markets. Maboneng and Braamfontein are still great and there is new stuff opening in those areas all the time. But if you’re looking for fun in the city, it isn’t necessary to limit yourself to those neighborhoods. Here are five of my favorite new non-Maboneng, non-Braamfontein spots, all opened within that past several months. 1) Mad Giant/Urbanologi The Mad Giant Brewery is a huge, beautifully designed craft beer joint in the 1Fox Precinct in Ferreirasdorp. Urbanologi is a high-end, Asian-inspired tapas restaurant inside the Mad Giant premises. Outside Mad Giant. The upscale interior. Mad […]

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Outside Mukhondeni Village Pottery

Art Emerges From Dust on the Ribola Art Route

I drove on a wide gravel road, my little car rattling as its tires pushed over the corrugated surface. Dust billowed behind me. I was headed toward a tiny Limpopo town called Mukondeni, where I would explore the Ribola Art Route, and I was making good time. I glanced at my iPhone’s GPS: The blue line was solid, assuring me I was headed in the right direction. “Turn right,” the voice commanded. The new road was narrower and softer, dirt tire ruts bordered by brown grass. I followed the GPS for a couple of kilometers, passing farms bordered by barbed-wire fences and two bemused pedestrians. The tire ruts grew fainter. The rocks in the road grew larger; thorn bushes closed in on both sides. Soon, despite that persistent blue line on my iPhone, there was no road at all. My GPS had sent me down a cattle track. I took a deep breath and turned the car around, point by point, wincing as thorns scraped metal. Rule #1 when traveling in rural South Africa: Save your smartphone battery and your sanity, and leave the GPS switched off. Follow directions from an actual human. I nearly panicked and lost it there. But after careful […]

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Cosmopolitan outside in 2014

Joburg’s Cosmopolitan Hotel: Then and Now

The Cosmopolitan Hotel, at the corner of Commissioner and Albrecht Streets, is one of Joburg’s most legendary buildings. Built at the turn of the 20th century, the Cosmopolitan is big and Victorian, its columned, curly-cued cupola looming high above the street. The crumbling facade is strangely magical, like something from a Tim Burton film. The Cosmopolitan, once a prominent gentleman’s club, was in a state of disrepair for decades, its lower-level windows bricked up to prevent trespassing. (Read more about the Cosmopolitan’s history here.) But there have been rumblings of change for a few years, especially since the Maboneng Precinct started sprouting up around the Cosmopolitan. Now, the wait is over. The Cosmopolitan has been made over into a restaurant/retail/gallery space, and it’s officially open for business. I was lucky enough to take some photos inside the Cosmopolitan in May 2014, when a soon-to-be-stalled renovation had just begun and the place was a complete mess. I’ve been sitting on these photos for two years, waiting for the renovations to finish so I can show the before-and-after. While the renovations aren’t 100% finished yet, I can’t wait any longer. Outside the Cosmopolitan Hotel: 2014 and 2016 The front of the building looks more or less […]

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Plastic bottles in the iThemba Tower

iThemba Tower: A Recycled Tower of Art in Troyeville

I spent Saturday afternoon on a Jozi art binge, driving from Braamfontein to Maboneng to Troyeville looking at lots and lots of art. I saw tons of amazing stuff. (Side note: Don’t miss the Walter Battiss exhibition at Wits Art Museum — it’s spectacular.) But one particular art installation stood out — quite literally — from the rest: The iThemba Tower at Spaza Gallery in Troyeville. A wide-angle view of the iThemba Tower in the garden of the Spaza Gallery. I’m pretty sure it’s the tallest work of art in Joburg.  A close-up view of the tower, which is made of bottles. The iThemba Tower is a permanent art installation constructed around a long-abandoned cell phone tower in the garden of the Spaza Gallery. The Spaza Gallery featured in my Top Ten Quirky Places in Joburg post, and has a fascinating story that revolves around the disused cell tower. I’ve been promising to tell the full story of the Spaza Gallery and it’s founder, Andrew Lindsay, for years. I will keep that promise, and I think the day is drawing nearer. Andrew Lindsay, founder of the Spaza Gallery, beneath the tower. The entire gallery garden is decorated with bottles. Check out […]

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Kids playing at Joziburg Lane

Happy Kids and Paper Flowers at Joziburg Lane

A few weeks ago, I found myself in the middle of a grade R (the South African version of kindergarten) classroom in downtown Joburg, watching kids have fun with paper, glue, paint, and glitter. The kids were assembling and decorating big paper flowers for the nearby Joziburg Lane market at One Eloff Street. The flowers would be used to decorate Joziburg Lane for its opening festival during the last week of May. Cute kids, ready to paint. Birds-eye view of the painting underway. A happy girl with her completed flower. Pauline, a teacher who I believe is also the founder of the Grow Up and Learn School, with her flower. After the madness of the all the flower creation was dying down, I took two Instax pictures of each kid with his/her flower. One picture went home with the child and the other one went to One Eloff. A couple of weeks later, just before the Joziburg Lane Festival, I met the kids at One Eloff to photograph them decorating the Lane. There is nothing cuter than a nearly straight line of tiny children. The little girl on the left is not a student at the Grow Up and Learn School. Her parents were […]

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Nelson Mandela Capture Site

Pop-Up Travel: The Nelson Mandela Capture Site

Earlier this week, I saw a photo of the Nelson Mandela Capture Site on my friend Meruschka’s Instagram feed. Meruschka’s post reminded me that I visited the Nelson Mandela Capture Site nearly a year ago and had yet to blog about it. Hence, my newest Pop-Up Travel post. The Nelson Mandela Capture Site commemorates the time and place in which Nelson Mandela — on the run from the apartheid government — was captured and arrested in 1962. After his arrest in the small town of Howick, in what was then South Africa’s Natal Province, Mandela was convicted of treason and went on to spend 27 years in prison. Today this still-rural spot in KwaZulu Natal is marked with a dramatic sculpture by South African artist Marco Cianfanelli, depicting Nelson Mandela’s profile with a collection of jagged, black metal bars. (You may remember that Cianfanelli also has a beautiful Mandela sculpture in downtown Joburg called the Shadow Boxer.) An innovative bust of Mandela in Howick, KwaZulu Natal. Ray and I stopped at the Capture Site last year on our way home from an eventful trip to Durban and the Wild Coast. We were tired, but the site is literally minutes from the highway […]

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Joburg art linocutting

Making Art in Johannesburg

Johannesburg is a great city for making art. I’ve heard artists/art enthusiasts complain that Johannesburg is less art-friendly than Cape Town. But I can only speak from my own experience. From the moment I arrived in Joburg I was struck by the creativity that oozes from every corner and crack in the city: the guys making and selling bead art on the street, the avant-garde clothing that people wear, the profusion of art workshops and studios, and the explosion of exhibitions and gallery openings that flood my Facebook feed. I was never particularly interested in art before I came to Joburg; here, I got inspired. I became an art lover and an artist. My friend Fiver, who has been an artist all her life, agrees. For as long as I’ve lived in Joburg, Fiver and her husband have come and gone — dividing their time between Europe and South Africa. Every time Fiver is here, she raves about how conducive Johannesburg is to her creative process. Fiver working on her art at the Prints on Paper studio in Joburg. I’ve written about Fiver on countless occasions. She accompanies me on many of my Joburg adventures and she also designed the header image at the […]

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James and Henrike at Hillbrow Boxing Club

Remembering Henrike

Warning: This post contains graphic language. Three days ago there was a terrorist attack in Côte d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast), in a resort town called Grand Bassam not far from the capital city of Abidjan. About 16 people were killed, plus the six gunmen who were reportedly affiliated with Al-Qaeda. My friend Henrike Grohs was one of the people killed. Henrike boxing with James Ike, one of our coaches at the Hillbrow Boxing Club, in March 2013. I hadn’t spoken with Henrike in several months, which I regret. Henrike moved from Johannesburg to Abidjan in January 2014, and during that time I only saw her sporadically when she passed through town for meetings. She was here a few weeks ago and stopped in for a training session at the Hillbrow Boxing Club, which she often did when she was in Joburg. But I was away in Turkey so I missed her. Henrike was from Germany but moved from Berlin to Joburg in 2009 for a position with the Goethe-Institut Südafrika, where she was in charge of culture and development. She later moved to Abidjan to become the director of the Goethe-Institut there. It’s hard not to sound cliché at a time like this. But the first […]

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I Love Westdene Graffiti

Several months ago a bunch of residents in Westdene, a quirky Joburg suburb just west of my own quirky suburb of Melville, decided to beautify their neighborhood with graffiti. With help from some passionate graffiti champions, Westdene homeowners who were keen to have their exterior walls decorated were paired with graffiti artists keen to decorate said walls. Hence, the Westdene Graffiti Project was born. There are several things I like about this project. First, it works perfectly in Johannesburg, a city in which at least 70% of residential homes are surrounded by walls. Second, the project is a win-win for both the residents and the artists: residents get beautiful works of art to decorate the outside of their homes, and artists get free walls to paint with full creative license (within reason, of course). Third, my boyfriend Ray is a graffiti artist and he’s painted a couple of walls for the project. A Westdene Grafitti Tour Saturday morning there was a graffiti walking tour in Westdene, organized by Past Experiences. I went along because I love graffiti and also because Ray — whose graffiti name is Bias — was the tour guide. Ray is a really good tour guide, if I do say so myself. Here he is […]

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Nine Random Fun Things in Joburg (Featuring Venus)

November is the best month of the year in Joburg. It’s summer and it’s right before Christmas, so the city is buzzing and tons of cool things are happening before everyone clears out in December. After weeks of exhausting travel, I’m back just in time. As I wrote in a previous post, I’m participating in a campaign with Venus that involves shopping and leg-shaving and doing fun things around the city. I’m always up for fun in Joburg, but this assignment is a great motivation for me to recover from my jet-lag and really get out there. Over the last ten days I’ve been all over town, going to fun events and exploring new (and old) places. No, I did not shave my legs in the Oriental Plaza. But the Venus Snap looks nice there. (Photo: Fiver Löcker) Here is my second Venus campaign installment: Nine random fun things I’ve done in Joburg over the last two weeks. I included several Fuji Instax Wide instant photos in my narration — an Instax Wide camera was one of the things I bought on my Venus shopping spree. 1) Night of 1000 Drawings I attended the Night of 1000 Drawings, a charity event in which hundreds of people gather and buy drawings scribbled on small pieces […]

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Melville Newsflash: Print for Sale at Mzansi Gallery

This is a quick speed-blog to let you all know that the Mzansi Gallery, a quirky art gallery on 7th Street in Melville, is getting ready to close for several weeks while it transitions to a new space. Before closing its doors on Friday, Mzansi is doing a two-day mini exhibition of two art works, one of which is mine. The main work on display is a wall-sized masterpiece called “No Land No Love” by Joburg artist and the founder of the Afrikan Freedom Station, Steve “Kwena” Mokwena. Can’t afford the wall-sized masterpiece? You can also buy a smaller print version. A glimpse of “No Land No Love”, both picture and print. That’s Kwena’s niece, Bontle, in the background. The second work is my limited-edition print, “Brixton on Fire”, which I blogged about a few weeks ago. Bontle hanging out in front of my print. Here’s a better look at the picture. I have seven prints left in the series and this is the only framed version. The Mzansi Gallery has several other works available and I think there are good deals to be had. If you feel like buying some art (especially mine), pop in before 12:00 p.m. on Friday. Visit the Mzansi Gallery Facebook […]

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Shots From the Turbine Art Fair

This weekend I went to the Turbine Art Fair, at the historic Turbine Hall in downtown Joburg. This is the Turbine Art Fair’s third year, but I was out of town the last two years so this was my first time going. The top floor of Turbine Hall. The Turbine Art Fair is different from other art shows for a couple of reasons: 1) The Fair takes place in Turbine Hall, which which was built nearly 100 years ago as a power station and has recently been transformed into a unique, top-of-the-line events venue. 2) The Turbine Art Fair focuses on emerging artists, which means that much of the art for sale is relatively affordable. All of the art is priced at R40,000 ($3235) or below and there are several pieces available for R2000 ($161) or less. I didn’t buy anything, although I did see several things I liked. (I have too many other things that I need to spend money on right now.) But I enjoyed exploring the fair and taking a few candid shots of the other attendees. Don’t touch! Dr. Livingstone, I presume? Portrait exchange: Artist Anthea Moys (right) is running a live exhibition in which she and another participant […]

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