Last weekend I took a trip from Pretoria to Johannesburg with three friends to explore. We started at 44 Stanley for coffee, before spending several hours at the South African heritage hub, Constitution Hill. From there we drove into the inner-city suburb of Newtown – home to theatres, art galleries, museums, restaurants, craft markets, and night clubs.
Inner city regeneration projects have seen Newtown develop into quite the tourist hotspot, with the Market Theatre, Bassline, SAB World of Beer and Nelson Mandela Bridge (leading into the area) just a few of the notable landmarks. It must have been amazing when first redeveloped, but it’s all looking a bit run down now, with (amongst other things) many of the carved pillars having been pillaged.
What I was drawn to, though, was the graffiti, another result of the area’s dawdling decline alongside the reconstruction. At first I saw only two walls of the stuff, but as we explored, we discovered an absolute treasure trove of (one of) my favourite art forms. Apart from the pillars under the de Villiers Graaff M1 motorway, which are perfect canvases for graffiti artists, the buildings that sprawl west of Newtown Junction Mall – both in use and abandoned – are also plastered in the stuff.
I was like a kid in a candy store – running from pillar to post – gobbling up the art. My poor companions were left standing alone on the street corners, wondering from which direction I would appear next. At one point a passerby asked if they were lost and needed help, which was a valid question of course, because we did stick out.
I got many strange stares from pedestrians and security guards and realised that I had probably outstayed my welcome when a van drove by, reversed and stopped alongside me, blue light flashing. Apparently running manically in Newtown’s streets at dusk with a large camera is not a normal occurrence and frowned upon by the authorities …