Johannesburg, South Africa’s most vibrant creative hub, boasts a multitude of art museums and galleries. But it’s no longer necessary to visit a gallery if you want to see great Jozi art. Graffiti – everything from tiny tags to wall-sized murals – has invaded Joburg’s streets over the past several years, spouting up the sides of buildings, alleys and hidden highway pillars.
It’s easy to spot graffiti in Joburg; simply look around as you drive through the suburbs or walk down any city street. But if you want to see the city’s best graffiti and learn the story behind it, an organised graffiti tour is the way to go. Past Experiences offers walking tours led by local graffiti artists, who explain the history of graffiti, the local scene and the different types of graffiti and street art. Past Experiences’ tours cover three inner-city neighbourhoods: Braamfontein, Newtown and Troyeville/Jeppestown.
Keen to graffiti-hunt on your own? Newtown is your best bet. Alongside Museum Africa, under the M1 highway on Henry Nxumalo Street, the huge cement pillars supporting the highway are coated top to bottom with colourful spray-paint. The surrounding Newtown streets, especially Gwi Gwi Mrwebi Street and the alley between Gwi Gwi Mrwebi and Carr Street, are popular with the city’s graffiti community and transform constantly as the walls are painted and repainted. (A note of caution: don’t visit the Newtown pillars alone or after dark, and keep a close watch on cameras and other valuables.)
The best time to watch graffiti artists in action is during the City of Gold Urban Art Festival, a week-long event in which graffiti artists from Joburg and around the world gather to paint walls throughout the city. The festival’s timing varies from year to year; follow the City of Gold group on Facebook for more information.
If you’re keen on galleries, the Grayscale Gallery (33 De Korte Street, Braamfontein) – owned by graffiti/tattoo artist Rasty Knayles – displays graffiti-style art and also sells graffiti spray-paint. The buildings around Grayscale are great for graffiti-hunting.
Armchair travellers should check out Graffiti South Africa, a hardback book created by Joburg-based graffiti photographer and writer Cale Waddacor. Graffiti South Africa features full-colour photos and interviews from South Africa’s best graffiti artists. Pick up a copy of Graffiti South Africa at most big-name South African book-sellers.