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Our Jozi Works piece in Louis Both S-Bend mural

The Louis Botha S-Bend: Walking Through Joburg’s History

Along Louis Botha Avenue between Orange Grove and Yeoville there is a half-kilometer stretch of road previously known as “the death bend”. Louis Botha is one of Joburg’s main thoroughfares between north and south, connecting Alexandra Township and the city’s northeastern suburbs to downtown Joburg. The road is notoriously ruled by speeding minibus taxis. This particular stretch is a relatively steep downhill from south to north and has a few dangerous curves. The Louis Botha corridor is in the middle of a major redevelopment. The death bend was recently straightened out somewhat, and there is now a wide pedestrian sidewalk and a very high wall along the northwestern side the road. A few months ago, that wall was covered with a huge, vibrant graffiti mural illustrating the history of the Louis Botha corridor (previously the Old Pretoria Road). The graffiti project is called the S-bend mural and it’s the largest mural in Joburg, covering 3,000 square meters. The S-bend mural — “S-bend” is meant to be less negative than “death bend”, while still warning drivers of potential danger — was commissioned by the City of Johannesburg Department of Transport, the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), and a JDA-supported art campaign #ArtMyJozi. […]

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Mark1 Mandela street art piece

Street Art and Cape Town’s District Six

Last month I spent a couple of days in Cape Town on either end of my weeklong stay in Stellenbosch. I was reminded yet again of what a lovely city Cape Town is. At some point I really need to stay for longer than three days at a time. I’m a Joburg girl, now and forever. But I must confess Cape Town is really freaking beautiful. I managed to do quite a few cool things during my short time in Cape Town, the best of which was a street art tour in District Six and surrounding areas with Juma’s Tours. The History of District Six The history of District Six is tragic and makes no sense, except in the non-sensical context of apartheid South Africa. Similar to Sophiatown in Joburg, District Six was a culturally vibrant area — located close to the center of Cape Town — populated by mostly non-white South Africans of various races. Following the Group Areas Act (enacted in various forms in 1950, 1957, and 1966), which legally mandated South Africa’s racial groups to live separately, the apartheid government forcibly removed District Six’s 60,000 residents to the Cape Flats and other townships during the 1970s. Of all the enraging aspects of apartheid, there […]

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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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A Golden Elephant in the City of Gold

I love to travel. But I love my life in Joburg and I miss it when I’m away. I also love blogging about Joburg, and I get antsy when travel blogging takes over and I run out of time for Jozi blogging. I spent the whole last week catching up on blogging about my previous trip, and now I’m about to leave on the next one. I did manage to get out to a couple of cool Jozi events during my precious week at home, the biggest of which was the City of Gold Urban Art Festival. (See my post about last year’s City of Gold.) I’m not terribly happy with my photos and haven’t had time to properly go through them anyway, but here is one that I like. A golden elephant, painted by Cape Town graffiti artist Falko1. Look carefully to see the story that this mural tells. Check out this piece and several other amazing graffiti creations around Bjala Square in Jeppestown. That’s all I have time for at the moment. I need to get into a taxi in ten minutes and I’m not finished packing yet. (Please excuse any typos — no time to proofread.) Hopefully I’ll have time for another Jozi snatch between […]

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Street Art in a Free State Township

I recently spent two days in Clarens — a quaint resort town in the mountains of the eastern Free State — as part of the MeetSouthAfrica local blogger trip. I’ve been to Clarens three or four times but never devoted an entire blog post to it, even though I think it’s one of the loveliest towns in South Africa (albeit a bit touristy). You can find reference to Clarens in several of my posts though: see here and here and here and here. This post isn’t about Clarens either. (Sorry, Clarens fans.) It’s about Kgubetswana, the township right next to Clarens, where I saw some really cool graffiti. Graffiti with a backdrop of emerald-green Free State mountains. We discovered this graffiti through a quirky art gallery in downtown Clarens called Ism Skism. Some of the other MeetSouthAfrica bloggers wandered into Ism Skism and started chatting to the owner, Sven Christian, about what he was up to. Inside Ism Skism. Sven offered to take us to Kgubetswana, which is a five-minute walk from Clarens, to show us some street art he curated as part of a project called the Flatlands Tour. You can read a nice description of the Flatlands Tour on the Graffiti South […]

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Remembering Mandela in 2014

Nelson Mandela died one year ago today. I hadn’t planned to post anything about this anniversary. But suddenly in the middle of this afternoon, Mandela crept into my head. I remembered how I was feeling at this time last year. (Here’s the post I wrote the day after he died.) Then I remembered that after Mandela died, I took a whole bunch of photos of a new graffiti mural that was painted in his honor. I’ve been meaning all year to do a blog post about it but never did. So, now is the time. This mural of Mandela, depicting the famous “Shadow Boxer” photograph by Bob Gosani, was commissioned by the Maboneng Precinct just after Mandela died last year. Cape Town graffiti artist Freddie Sam started painting the mural in the days immediately following Mandela’s death. I photographed the mural a couple of times while it was in progress. Another angle on the half-finished Shadow Boxer. I took this a few days later, right before Mandela’s funeral, when the mural was nearly finished. Incidentally, a spectacular sculpture depicting the same photo was erected on the other side of the city a few months earlier. Here’s my post about that sculpture. I […]

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Top Ten Shots From the City of Gold

Last week I spent lots of time watching graffiti artists paint during the City of Gold Urban Art Festival. I took tons of pictures and I’ve been struggling to figure out how to organize them, and also how to write about the festival more broadly. In the end, I just decided to pick my ten favorite shots from the week and explain each picture. Most of these pictures depict graffiti pieces in progress rather than finished works, and some of the pictures aren’t really of graffiti pieces at all. I actually find graffiti quite challenging to photograph and the finished pieces — while beautiful — don’t always make the most interesting photos. I’m more interested in the stories around the graffiti’s creation and the environment in which it’s created. With that said, here we go. (Note: I didn’t include any shots from the festival kickoff at the Absa building since I covered that in my previous post.) 1) Braamfontein graffiti tour I shot this on a Past Experience graffiti walking tour the day before the City of Gold festival started, at a wall on Smit Street that was actually repainted later in the week. Jozi tourists are falling in love with graffiti, as you can see from […]

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Graffiti Takeover in Joburg’s Banking District

The City of Gold Urban Art Festival is happening all week in Joburg. I was planning an epic post at the end of the week with all the highlights, but I just realized that I’ve already taken far too many photos to fit into one post and the week isn’t even over yet. It looks like I’ll be doing a City of Gold Series. Here are a few shots from the festival kick-off last Sunday, when several of the featured artists painted a temporary wall outside of the Absa Building on Main Street. Absa Bank is the corporate sponsor for City of Gold (Absa also sponsored the coinciding Joburg City Festival last weekend), and it was pretty cool watching these talented graffiti writers painting outside a big-bank skyscraper. Early stages of the painting on Sunday at Absa. A trifecta of spraying hands. That’s my boyfriend Ray (a.k.a. Bias) in the foreground, with Veronika, Solo One, and Mr. Dheo in the background.  Here’s some nice advertising for you, Absa. You can thank me later. Falko, a well-known graffiti artist from Cape Town. Solo One, who is visiting Joburg from London. Bias. WANE, from New York City. Veronika, a local boy from Joburg. I’m loving […]

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The Best Jozi Birthday Weekend of All Time, Ever

My birthday is on Tuesday. On the actual day I’m going to be in Knysna — a lovely seaside town in the Western Cape — as a guest of the of the Knysna Oyster Festival. I’ll be participating in countless exciting activities in Knysna and I imagine this will be a pretty fun way to spend my birthday. (It’s a big one, by the way.) But of course I am also a little bit sad that I won’t be celebrating in Jozi. I more than made up for that this weekend though. Last night my favorite Jozi band, BCUC, played a gig at Curiocity Backpackers in Maboneng. This gig was more or less organized in honor of my birthday. I don’t know how to explain how great it was. Here’s the only decent picture I got: BCUC forgot their sound equipment so they performed without microphones. “We’re improvising for 2Summers,” said Jovi (center). At least I think that’s what he said. I was too busy swooning to hear him properly. The lack of sound equipment made BCUC’s performance about 100 times more awesome, in my opinion, although I suspect that they’ve all lost their voices today. (Read my other BCUC posts here and here.) Thanks so much to […]

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Joburg’s Ever-Shifting Paint Canvas

Last weekend I went on a graffiti tour with Past Experiences. I should have done this a long time ago. Graffiti is a huge deal in Joburg and I love photographing it. I haven’t blogged about it enough. Past Experiences offers several types of graffiti tours in different parts of town, and they even host graffiti workshops. (I’m going to stick to taking pictures, as I can hardly write my name in bubble letters.) Our particular tour wound through Newtown, one of Joburg’s most prolific graffiti neighborhoods. In addition to Jo, our Past Experiences guide and resident graffiti expert, the tour also included two professional graffiti artists, Mars and Bias. Mars and Bias showed us some of their own work and provided insight into the city’s graffiti culture. The start of our tour. These wooden heads are all over Newtown. While I’ve always enjoyed and admired graffiti, before this I knew very little about what it means or how it’s created. I learned a lot on the tour, but I don’t want to go into too much detail because I’m afraid of getting things wrong. The graffiti world is complicated and there is a lot of lingo. And as usual, I missed a lot of the interesting explanations because I […]

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A Bit of Baltimore in Kliptown

A year ago, I wandered into a gallery in Joburg’s Maboneng Precinct and discovered a photo exhibition comparing Sowebo — a low-income neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland (USA) — to Soweto. I was surprised and excited to discover the Soweto/Sowebo exhibition. I grew up in the Baltimore suburbs and used to have family in Sowebo. But Sowebo is a small, obscure neighborhood and few people outside Baltimore know it exists. Who would think to do an exhibition like this in Joburg?

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