Our beloved Jozi is a city of a thousand stories. A place of opportunity, enterprise and re-invention, but also a city with a historically significant site on every second street corner. Not only will you see this in the faces of the colourful individuals you encounter as you roam the city centre, but also in the myriad of eclectic public art scattered throughout the area. Here are a couple of must-see pieces to add to your Mzansi experience.
11 Kotze Street, Johannesburg
Defined by its curators as a “living museum”, the Constitutional Hill complex is located at the site of Johannesburg’s most notorious and storied political prison. Rather than allowing this location to mark the landscape as a relic of a bygone era, 11 Kotze Street has been transformed through artistic and educational efforts into a representation of our new democracy.
As well as housing the South African Constitutional Court and an impressive selection of rotating historical exhibitions and guided tours, the Hill boasts some truly magnificent examples of South African post-colonial art. Dumile Feni’s 2003 work History stands guard to the doors of the court like a sentry – a looming bronze yoked figure, depicting the nature of oppression of brutality.
Another must-see piece is a 1998 oil on canvas piece, Blue Dress, by South African legend Judith Mason, which is widely considered the signature work of the Constitutional Hill collection. Standing under the newly constructed contemporary glass facade of the Awaiting Trial block stairs, it’s difficult not to feel both the staggering weight of Johannesburg’s political significance and a blossoming hope at the future of freedom its citizens are rallying to create. The Hill is the perfect starting point to gain some context before venturing off to hunt down the hidden gems nestled in surrounding areas.
Constitution Hill is open from 09h00 to 17h00 daily, with night tours available upon booking. Adult tickets range from R80 to R300, with discounts available to pensioners and students. Visit constitutionhill.org.za or call +27 11 381 3100 for more information.
Queen Elizabeth Bridge, Newtown, Johannesburg
Towering a full 11 metres over the railyards of Park Station, this sculpture has been affectionately dubbed “Johannesburg’s own Statue of Liberty” by locals. Created by pillars of the South African art world, William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx, this work consists of fragmented steel pieces in black and white, set at opposing angles on a central vertical axis.
Though appearing like an abstracted collection of shapes from many angles, from the right vantage point, the shapes align into the silhouette of a woman carrying a burning charcoal brazier on her head. By turning this oft-seen figure into a celebrated icon, the artists have constructed an ode to those who keep the city going – the street vendors, the day labourers, and the women who rise before the sun and only turn in when the stars have long since sparkled into view to match the streetlights.
This sculpture is something you’ll want to walk up to and investigate; it feels almost impossibly effervescent and dynamic for such a large piece of metal, so schedule in a good few minutes to marvel at this stop.
The Juta Street Trees
Juta Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg
Twenty-six metal trees line the streets of the bustling student district of Braamfontein. Constructed by Claire Regnard in 2006, this ‘virtual greening’ project is the product of an initiative in conjunction with the Imbali Visual Literacy Project.
The artist worked in collaboration with a group of local youth whose small-scale tree designs constructed from recycled materials were interpreted into three-metre tall organic, moving forms and littered in vivid colours along the urban pavement.
Each tree is an artwork in its own right and transforms a leisurely walk down Juta into a surreal, dream-like landscape. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting on a Saturday, pop into the Neighbourgoods Market at the corner of Juta and De Beer streets for a spectacle of thrift stalls, sustainable crafts, street food and live DJs.
The Open Air Graffiti Gallery
Under The M1 Highway on Henry Nxumalo Street, Newtown, Johannesburg
Nothing says urban art more than graffiti and Jozi has her fair share of spray can masterpieces. Though fantastic examples of informal wall art litter the city’s every corner, arguably the most magnificent showcase of this work lines the concrete of the underside of the M1 Highway bridge on Henry Nxumalo Street in Newtown.
The makeshift gallery is constantly changing and being added to and makes for an excellent repeat visit because every time you see it, there’s something new to marvel at. If graffiti is an area of interest for you, Eenblond Tours runs a walking tour of Joburg Street Art, filled with local knowledge and anecdotes, and a jovial, community engagement-based atmosphere that will be your most immersive avenue into this medium at a reasonable price.
Eenblond Tours can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +27 82 472 6414. Jozi Street Art and Street Food tours start at R520 p/p.
The City Sightseeing Double-Decker Hop On Hop Off Bus has stops all over Johannesburg and has routes that pass by all of these attractions. From R235 for a day pass, these buses run every 20 minutes throughout central Joburg and include informative audio tours as you travel. Contact email@example.com for more information.
The Bannister Hotel in Newtown is nestled in the heart of the inner city’s nightlife. Walking distance from major attractions and 750 metres from Park Station, rooms start at R695 for a twin room (including breakfast). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to make a booking.
Avoid travelling alone after dark and try to go sightseeing in groups. Keep your valuables accounted for and on your person, especially in crowded places.
SAA flies between Cape Town and Johannesburg daily. Visit flysaa.com