Back to the City Festival 2014 #BTTC2014

BTTC NewtownThe rumours are indeed true. For years the Back to the City Festival held each year on Freedom Day in Newtown has been granted mythical status by me – I have heard about the huge crowds, the graffiti artists who take over the pillars under the M1 bridge for the event, the music, the style fest. This year it was time to try it out. Billed as the biggest hip hop gathering in Africa, Back To the City doesn’t disappoint… Continue reading

Graffiti artist Mars takes it off the streets for a gallery show


Mars is a Joburg icon. Drive around Newtown, Fordsburg, and along Barry Hertzog Ave and you’ll see his telltale signs. The 25-year-old graffiti artist has pretty much made his mark across the city. This week his exhibition From The Ground Up is on at Two By Two Gallery in Newtown. It’s definitely worth seeing. Before Instagram and inner city gentrification there was Graffiti and with it came the mingling of exhaust and paint fumes, the scraping away of rot and unearthing urine-stained sidewalk weeds for the perfect spot. There was finding the best wall and owning it, but most of all burning the rest. This is graffiti and it all started from the ground up.”

This is the story of #Mars… Continue reading

Newtown graffiti walk

Solo one

Sunday morning in Newtown. We joined the lovely Jo Buitendach from Past Experiences, the original city walking tour company for a graffiti walk. Jo’s in the process of writing her M.A. thesis focusing on the heritage value of graffiti in Newtown. Hopefully it will end up as a book. She has an anthropological take likening it to early human’s need for self-expression once realised in rock art.

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The city gets a paint job from I ART JOBURG


Artwork by ROA, shot by Martha Cooper. My favourite mural of the I ART Joburg series. Our Saturday walk included a stop at the Mai Mai Market that inspired ROA’s endangered Rhino installation displayed at Area3.

After a two month hiatus spent in my study (and a number of free WIFI-enabled coffee shops across the city including my current favourite Warm & Glad, on 357 Jan Smuts Avenue) finishing my M.A. dissertation, I have been released to feast on the city. Oh how I have missed that. On Saturday we took a walk with Bongani Mathebula from MainStreetWalks to view the murals that form part of the IARTJOBURG project, a brilliant initiative by Ricky Lee Gordon of /and people (love their work), adidas Originals and Plascon.

Here’s the story…

If you go down to Doornfontein today you are in for a big surprise. Look up along Sivewright Avenue as you travel in the direction of Yeoville and there hanging on the wall of an otherwise ordinary commercial face brick block is an elephant, a rhinoceros, a giraffe and three other wild creatures. They appear to be lying across the reinforced concrete beams, their limbs hang limply, and their eyes are closed. Asleep, or extinct, the artist has left it up to you to decide.

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Joburg street art and the Rasty factor

Sunday morning in Maboneng – Joburg’s hipster haven on the east side of the city. Urban regeneration comes in the form of a peanut, banana, date and soya milk smoothie. Maboneng has arrived. What could have been a fantasy is now a high-priced and much in demand reality.

And outside Uncle Merv’s shake shack our little crew is getting bigger. It could be the start of a joke… One editor, one photographer, one blogger and two tour guides meet over a smoothie to wait for Rasty…

Rasty with his work. Photo by Wesley Poon for Sunday Times

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Lolo Veleko's urban hip

#130. See Lolo Veleko’s photographs at the Standard Bank Gallery. Only one day to go until the exhibition moves off taking Veleko’s portraits of urban fashionistas and graffiti with it. “Gatecrash your own fantasy” reads a piece of graffiti scrawled on a wall. Veleko’s subjects are mostly young, black and hip. They stare back at you with a brash confidence, dressed in clothing that makes you start. It’s full of colour, its often unconventional in its arrangement, it is “individual” and a powerful form of expressing that. “The Japanese love them,” a Joburg gallery curator once told me.


There is an element of fantasy to the subjects being dressed up so as they stand out from their urban settings. The exhibition is aptly named “Wonderland” and at its centre is an installation — a green carpet dotted with plastic flowers, swings suspended  above it from the ceiling. It looks inviting and fantastical — all that is missing is a ‘Don’t walk on the grass sign’.

In the background of some of the photos is the city of Durban with its tropical palm trees and strange mix of cutting-edge urban fashion and design with that frozen-in-time  1970’s  seaside town look (reminding me of the movie Funny Bones starring Oliver Plat and set in Blackpool where he auditions lots of carnie-folk). It is perfectly  captured in a photograph of a statue of a rickshaw-puller, behind him two strange-looking white children, all of their frozen gazes fixed on what’s ahead; another has a fairytale castle set amidst a city landscape, a couple at its doorway as if they are about to enter and escape to another dimension.


Standard Bank Young Artist Veleko is in an exploratory phase, playing with words and meaning. Another piece of graffiti says: “Adventure without risk is Disneyland”.

Her photographs range from portraiture to capturing fragments of urban life.

William Kentridge (also a Standard Bank Young Artist once) was there before us and signed the comment book with “White people are negotiable ?” – a comment on one of the grafitti photos. William if you are listening I chose to interpret that as saying you can bargain them down. Let’s discuss. I don’t have to tell you its art – open to as much interpretation as you can throw at it.

* Standard Bank Gallery is on the corner Simmonds and Frederick Streets, downtown Johannesburg. For more on the gallery click here.