After my amazing experience searching out street art in Johannesburg I’m excited to explore the even larger scene in Cape Town. My tour guide is Massimo, a passionate Italian who came to Cape Town for a 2-week holiday and has stayed for 10 years (and counting). He’s a partner in a small company called Anima Tours and, among other things, specializes in street art tours. With Massimo, I’ll be exploring the Woodstock neighbourhood in Cape Town, an area prolific in street art.
I meet Massimo at the Woodstock Exchange a very cool business community area with boutiques, restaurants and small, mostly tech, companies. Until recently, Woodstock has been primarily an industrial and rather run-down area of Cape Town. With a backdrop of Table Mountain and streets lined with lovely, but run-down, small Victorian houses it’s hard to believe that parts of this neighbourhood are still notorious for their gang and drug activities.
Massimo is adamant that I understand the historical development of Woodstock so our first stop is a unique “art” installation by Hannah Williams that lines the windows of the new Woodstock bus terminal. Her piece provides a visualization of how the size and cultural diversity of the Woodstock population has changed from 1865 to 2001. I think it’s a brilliant and easy to follow depiction of how the population of this area has grown and changed over the years:
The real boom in street art in Woodstock began in 2010 when a local street artist, Freddy Sam, started asking local area residents if he could paint on the open walls or their homes and businesses. Freddy would also offer to show them his art before going ahead with his painting. This project was extremely popular and prompted other street artists both local and international to come and paint in Woodstock.
In 2014 Freddy Sam made National Geographic’s list of 11 street art greats alongside the likes of Banksy and JR, and in 2011 he was named one of Mail & Guardian’s 200 young South Africans who make a difference. His work tends to focus on current social issues such as this 2014 mural commemorating 20 years of freedom in South Africa.
I found the street art in Cape Town both more colourful and, on average, more positive and fun-loving than what I found in Jo’burg. The art I saw also seems more likely to express political or social points of view in a more forthright way. And perhaps that’s not surprising. Woodstock is an area in transition. While the lower parts are rough, dirty and known for a lot of crime, gangs and drugs, the face of the rest of the area has been changing dramatically over the last 10 years. Young professionals are moving in accompanied by trendy restaurants, businesses and galleries.
Similar to what’s happening in the Bo-Kaap neighbourhood, house prices here are also on the climb as the gentrification continues and long-standing residents who can’t afford the rising prices are being pushed further out of the city. The following piece by Israeli artist Know Hope directly address that issue.
Know Hope approaches political issues with a human and emotional dimension. In the case of “A Minor Refusal” he shows two arms reaching out, as if to shake hands. The piece is a commentary on the gentrification and changes currently taking place in Woodstock: the government seems to reach out to the people but the handshake is feeble, fragile. There is little real connection. To create “A Minor Refusal” the artist actually painted the majority of the building green and left his “canvas” the natural colour of the building. The painting is “taking over” the space, but there is a refusal to allow the paint to consume the entire building. Such a complex issue has been expressed so simply and so elegantly.
One thing I love about street art is traveling to different cities and finding works by the same artists. Artists like Falko One who I first became familiar with in Johannesburg. A leader in South African street art Falko One’s signature elephants can be seen on walls across Cape Town and its townships. He’s also involved in community projects and runs workshops to create awareness about graffiti as an art form.
Jaz, a super talented street artist from Buenos Aires who’s been painting there since 1990, travels the world painting his large scale murals that incorporate man and animal – often in conflict. There is generally a duality in Jaz’s work: man becomes beast, beast becomes man. I’ve seen works by Jaz in Montreal, Buenos Aires and now Cape Town and am always enthralled.
DALeast is a Chinese-born artist who now lives in Cape Town. He’s an accomplished sculptor, painter and digital artist who travels abroad for six months every year to tag the walls of other countries. His huge animal works, seemingly formed out of a myriad of small metal shards that comes undone in certain places, “reflects the human condition,” he says. I absolutely love his stye and find his pieces intricate and amazing. I’m seen work by DALeast in a number of cities I’ve visited.
The teenage son of two street artist, Jack Fox has developed his own unique and intricate illustrating style. Influenced by his extensive travels, he says, “my street art, animation and music connect to create a reflection of my life”. Instilling emotion in his sketches is important to him as well as the influence his love for a wide range of music has on his work.
There is one other set of street art that I really feel deserves special mention: these endangered species paintings by Londoner Louis Masai are great educational pieces, as well as being beautiful:
After more than two hours of wandering around Woodstock with Massimo it’s time to say good-bye, not because we’ve run out of things to look at but because we’ve run out of time and I’m hungry! We head back to the Exchange where I give Massimo a hug and a big thank-you and them I’m for a delicious lunch at one of the restaurants. My fish is delicious and I’m happy to beat the crowds that soon wander in.
Like every area I’ve visited so far I could have spent several more hours hear in Woodstock – wandering the streets, talking to locals, shopping and taking photos. The street art is wonderful, the architecture unique and the views of Table Mountain amazing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this city and this country have simply been one incredible adventure after another. I can’t wait to return!
And now….here’s a gallery with more of my favourite photos from my day in Woodstock: