Johannesburg

Joburg People – Artist Hermann Niebuhr on Fordsburg

12 May 2017

Artist Hermann Niebuhr is known for his exceptional landscape works which have been exhibited widely in South Africa, the US, the UK, Germany and Ireland. His work is held in private and corporate collections, and he is represented by the Everard Read Gallery. Niebuhr currently divides his time between his studios in Fordsburg and the Klein Karoo.

‘I’ve been in my studio in Fordsburg for 10 years now. In that time I’ve watched the area change massively but stay fundamentally the same. I once had a foreign journalist stand on the balcony and survey the streets: “Is this area on the way up or down?” he asked. That was some time ago, and it’s definitely on the up. Fordsburg is a mixed-use wholesaler hub with an increasing residential component. It’s a place of traders and trading, locals and immigrants jostling for deals. Car parts, carpets, curtains, material, Islamic garb, Hindu prayer kit, stationary… You name it, you’ll find it here.

And people need to eat. The pick of the fare at the moment is House of Schwarma (45 Central Rd, cnr Albertina Sisulu, +27 11 029 4811). This group of Jordanians, Syrians and Moroccans do a mean shawarma and freshly squeezed fruit juices. I also love the Dosa Hut (48 Central Rd, +27 11 492 1456), Al Makka (50 Central Rd, +27 11 838 2545) and Istanbul (52 Central Rd, +27 11 054 5749) always with stubbled patrons smoking shisha (water pipes) outside. All these fine eateries are along Central Avenue. The old school of Bismillah’s is where you want to get your Friday biryani (78 Mint Rd, +27 11 838 6429). All this at Fordsburg prices (read: 1987 economy).

There is a carnival atmosphere at weekends, notably the Saturday night market. It’s a feast for knock-offs and the latest Bollywood shows. I overheard a nice Muslim boy talking to a friend on the phone once: ”Come to Fordsburg, man. Plenty of Burkha here.“

I’ve had to find my place in a complex urban ecosystem ranging from wealthy and poor shop owners to hawkers, street thieves and opportunists. Their stories enter the paintings through many doorways. My studio has a commanding view of the city from a wraparound balcony on the first floor above Mohammedys restaurant. My paintings not only carry the rich colours of the area but the scent of the curry downstairs, too!

Come and visit me. We’ll sit on the balcony and I’ll help you get your eye in on all the action in the street.’

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