Explore Johannesburg’s thriving art scene

July 9, 2019

Johannesburg is a city that hustles — and its dynamic creative scene is no different. If you’re visiting Joburg, make sure you schedule time to discover some of the city’s diverse galleries and evocative public art. Here are just some of the places that should be on your radar.

Inner City street art

Dive into Jozi’s art scene with a tour along the inner-city streets. In areas such as Newtown and Maboneng, you’ll find dozens of pieces that provide some insight to South African socio-political issues. A creative movement in Johannesburg began to blossom after the end of apartheid, picking up pace over the past 15 years or so. Today the city’s street art is the most prolific in the country. Some standout pieces include Faith47’s stampeding zebra mural on the corner of Fox and Rissik Streets in the CBD and Falko 1’s ‘Family Time’ mural of a brightly coloured mother and baby elephant in Newtown.

Should you want to take home a little reminder of Joburg’s street art, head to iwasshot in Joburg in Maboneng’s Arts on Main complex. This social enterprise sells prints of inner-city Johannesburg (much of which is of street art) taken by disadvantaged kids who were given disposable cameras, a crash course in photography and encouraged to go out and shoot their city.

Victoria Yards

A newcomer to Johannesburg’s art scene is Victoria Yards, a restored industrial development in the east city with an urban farm and a number of creative studios. On the first Sunday of every month, the artists’ studios are open to the public. Residents include international photographer Roger Ballen and local artists James Delaney and Ayanda Mabulu. You’ll also find design stores such as Tshepo the Jean Maker and Yol Bijoux Nomades jewellery.

Once you’ve browsed the studios and galleries, grab a bite to eat from the food stalls or stock up on produce from the farmer’s market selling organic fruit and veg from Victoria Yards and other nearby urban farms.

ABSA Gallery

You’ll find the ABSA Gallery in the ABSA bank’s headquarters on Fox Street in the CBD. Alongside permanent works such as the six-storey hand-woven carpet banners by Norman Catherine, there are temporary exhibits, which include pieces by the winner of the ABSA L’Atelier Awards. In 2018, the award went to Banele Khoza, who curated an exhibition entitled "A Letter to My 22-Year-Old Self". Many other artists contributed to the exhibit, which highlights the difficulties faced by young creatives in South Africa. Proceeds from the pieces sold go to Khoza’s NGO BKhz Foundation, which supports young artists.

Gallery Momo

In Parktown, Gallery Momo showcases a diverse range of artists from South Africa and the African diaspora. As well as pieces by new and young artists, the gallery also displays the work of 20th-century masters.

You’ll find temporary exhibitions such as a series of historic black and white photographs taken by Capetonian George Hallett. Hallett was born in District Six, a neighbourhood from which residents were forced out to make way for a whites-only area in the late 1960s; he photographed his community immediately prior to this removal, before fleeing to Europe where he continued to document South African exiles.

You might also come across US-born Ayana V Jackson’s analysis of black womanhood through self-portraits; the human outlines Angolan-Portuguese artist Pedro Pires created from ‘interventions’ on paper and empty jumpsuits; or UK-born Ransome Stanley’s exploration of afropolitanism (a philosophy of multi-racial, multi-cultural African identity) using old colonial images as examples of how Africans have been exoticized.

Everard Read & CIRCA

Head over to the "art strip" on Jan Smuts Avenue in Rosebank to explore a whole host of galleries. This is a particularly great place to visit on First Thursdays, a free event on the first Thursday of each month when the art galleries of Johannesburg (and Cape Town) open their doors to the public until at least 9pm.

Everard Read is the oldest commercial art gallery in the country, founded in 1913, and is part of the Keyes Art Mile development, which also houses Marble, one of the city’s best restaurants, and a number of boutiques. Everard Read showcases work by South African artists and fosters young, up-and-coming creatives. In the same complex is the striking CIRCA Gallery, Everard Read’s sister property, with its curved wall of burnished aluminium reed-like strips. Alongside contemporary art exhibits, the curators aim to include scientific and technological installations.

Both galleries display artwork such as Francki Burger’s layered black-and-white photography of the Anglo-Zulu Battlefields in KwaZulu-Natal, Nelson Makamo’s charcoal or oil paint portraits and Olivié Keck’s bold, bright yet often morbid paintings of women.

Getting there

Check out our small group tours to South Africa here.

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