Street Art & Graffiti in the Maboneng Precinct, Johannesburg

“I laugh at the way some people think graffiti is all selfish tagging and vandalism. Thoughtful street art is like good fiction – it speaks out on behalf of everyone, for us all to see.”  

– Carla H. Krueger –

We do our best to escape the early morning winter chill by ducking into the relative warmth of Eat Your Heart Out, a tiny coffee shop buzzing with activity. After ordering our cappuccinos, my friend and I hang around for a short while, chatting to a young Australian couple, before slipping onto two newly opened seats hugging the small counter. We admire the industrial look, and comment on the friendliness of the staff. Feeling the warmth of the coffee mingle with anticipation, we stroll across the street to where a small group of people have started to congregate. We introduce ourselves to Jo, before succumbing to Uncle Merv’s delicious croissants with the pretext that we need the energy for our walking tour through the Maboneng Precinct in downtown Johannesburg.  

Jo, an energetic young woman, founded Past Experiences a couple of years ago, and has since offered various interesting walking tours to introduce people to parts of the city most are either not familiar with, or reluctant to visit on their own. On this cold Sunday morning in August, she introduces us to Mars (or Moris as he sometimes calls himself), a local graffiti artist, and soon we are on our way admiring different examples of graffiti and street art, while talking about its history, etiquette, private property versus public spaces, and the various projects and artists in the area.

Throughout history mankind has scribbled on walls, from cave paintings to historic figures or travellers carving their names on old Egyptian temple stones. Seen in this light, modern-day graffiti is a relatively recent form of self-expression. A way of people proving their existence, leaving their mark, or reacting to the social or political climate they live in. From a humble beginning of simple tags, it took ordinary letters, and changed them not just into an art form, but a powerful form of expression.

Eventually pictures found their way into these murals, and street art as we know it today was born. Still making statements, it has grown in size, sometimes to cover the whole side of a building, and often commissioned as part of a bigger project in an area. The humble spray can is also not the only means of creating street art anymore, and it can now include everything from wheatpasting, yarn bombing, stencil art, and mosaic installations. The possibilities are endless, and street artists often work on various commercial projects, making a name and a living not unlike any other artist, whose works are exhibited in traditional gallery spaces.  

One of my favourite walls in the Maboneng Precinct is a series on the perimeter wall of a school, done by South African artist Nelson Makamo:

Visited:  August 2017

Notes:

# To enlarge the individual photographs and see the artist’s name (where I know who created it), click on the first image, and scroll through them.

# For a closer look at some of the street art in this post, as well as the artists, click here.

# Another excellent website for graffiti is one called Graffiti South Africa.

# Check out Past Experiences’ website for their current tours.

Click here to discover street art and artists from around the world.

# Watch the documentary Bomb It.

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