art

The Street Artist’s Guide To Graffiti in Johannesburg

From Rasty to Mars, here’s the ultimate street-art guide to Johannesburg.

Valentina Nicol

street art joburg

At the recent City of Gold Urban Art Festival it was overheard that Cape Town artists may have started the graffiti scene in South Africa, but that Joburg perfected it. Whether you believe it or not, the argument stays with you as you walk through the intimidating avenue of pillars holding up the highway overpass in Newtown. This once-neglected in-between zone is today a vibrant and colourful gallery, often-frequented by tourists and locals, and holds some of the city’s greatest street art by the likes of legends such as Tapz, Faith47 and Rasty

Speaking to House and Leisure, Rasty says graffiti is closely linked to Joburg’s life cycle. ‘The city centre itself has gone through many phases: from a place of splendor, to a place of squalor, and now it finds itself somewhere in between. In this there is potential for graffiti to thrive. It has small ghetto walls and abandoned spots, right up to walls of high-rise buildings. Basically, there is something for everyone wanting to paint or experience graffiti, as well as a freedom and general appreciation in these areas,' he says.  

'Over the years, the amount of work in the city is building up and, as this happens, and the quality improves, people start to notice both locally and internationally. I think a lot of the big cities that are graffiti capitals around the world have gone through the same experiences.'

There’s a mountain of street art to see in Johannesburg, if you know where to look, and there are few Joburgers quite so clued-up about what’s on offer as the folk at Past Experiences — one of the first companies in the city to offer walking tours of Joburg’s urban art spaces. 

Co-founder of Past Experiences Jo Buitendach explained a bit about the city’s street art situation, a city she says is becoming the ‘Graffiti Capital of Africa’. 

I think the graffiti/street art scene here is very active, exciting and pretty young. We have lots of art and we are becoming the graffiti capital of Africa. There is a lot of wall space in the city centre, and it is overall accepted and welcomed,” she says.

The thousands who attended the last City of Gold Urban Art Festival, now in its sixth year, and influx of international artists taking part, comes despite (or in spite of) recent attempts to clamp down on the street art scene, Buitendach adds. 

‘Just like any city, we have an anti-graffiti bylaw. A few years ago the government tried to introduce something more extreme, but there was kickback from the public because graffiti can add a lot of positivity to a city, and it seems to have calmed down. The government has recently commissioned some graffiti artists for a community project in Norwood, plus invited some artists to paint a government substation for the Latest City of Gold festival, which is great, so let’s hope that continues.’

Soweto-based street artist Empty, who calls himself ‘The Mayor Of Johannesburg Grafitti’, and who painted new work at the recent City of Gold festival (pictured above), says old-fashioned ideas about graffiti still plague much of the position street artists hold in the city. ‘The biggest misconception about street art is that it’s viewed as vandalism and that we, as writers, are part of gangs. In reality we are creatives with a story to tell and street art/graffiti is our platform and canvas.’

Buitendach, Empty, Rasty and Mars (who is one of the pioneers of street art in Joburg, and can be seen across the city) give House and Leisure their ‘must sees’ of the most unmissable street art in the city. 

Jo Buitendach (P.A.S.T. Experiences)

'I’m quite into old-school, traditional graffiti so probably something by Tapz, maybe the piece outside Curiocity Backpackers in Maboneng. I also love Meins Noodle boxes, which you can see around town. For the big pieces, probably Freddie Sam’s big Mandela boxing on Access City Doornfontein, or the Mars pieces on Berea Street that have fabric shweshwe head pieces. And Bias painted a memorial piece to my dog Digi who passed away, so I always loved that! It was on Beacon Street but was demolished recently for a building site.'

Empty

Mr Ekse’s 'Jovendorsburg' mural in Newton above the Market Theatre

Pose MSK mural’s in Braamfontein 

'Meeting of Styles’ murals in Braamfontein 

Above’s mural In Jeppestown 

Sobeckis’ mural above Grayscale in Braamfontein (pictured)

Rasty 

Above mural on Madison Street, Jeppestown

Adnate mural on Park Street, Jeppestown

Sobekcis mural at Grayscale in Braamfontein 

Malakkai mural on Eendracht Street, Braamfontein

Falko elephants at Toms Music, Braamfontein (pictured) 

Mars

I would also suggest areas rather than specific artworks, so check out Maboneng, Braamfontein and even Newtown, which all have a lot of artworks by local and international artists. It’s definitely worth walking around those parts of town!