Johannesburg

Artisan tour at Victoria Yards

05 Feb 2024
Once a collection of abandoned industrial buildings, this sprawling complex in Lorentzville, east of Joburg City Centre, has undergone a spectacular transformation. Victoria Yards, which opened in 2016, is a testament to the power of vision and community-driven development. The driving force behind this transformation was the dream of creating a space for makers, artists, and artisans, and it's brought new life to the neighbourhood that bridges the Maboneng precinct and Cyrildene's vibrant Chinatown.

We visited Victoria Yards on a Thursday morning for their artisan tour (Oct 2023). This free tour takes place at 11:00 daily – the meeting point is outside the delightful coffee spot Foakes. The tour offers a unique opportunity to visit some of the many studios and meet the artists and other tenants.

Our tour guides greeted us warmly and they were just as excited about the tour as we were. Before the tour started it was clear that Victoria Yards is not just about art and artisans. The place showcases its commitment to the environment, evident in the lush urban garden that weaves its way around artist studios, galleries, retail shops, food vendors and more. At the heart of this reimagined complex, Tony, the urban farmer, cultivates gardens that not only beautify the space but also provide fresh produce to the surrounding community. 
 
The surrounding community has access to plants and produce at Victoria Yards. Photo: Kemiso Wessie. 

For those familiar with the contemporary, industrial aesthetic of boutique shopping complex 44 Stanley in Milpark, you'll find elements of that style here, as the two sites share a common founder. It's a vibrant place where art and commerce coexist.

Beyond the blooming gardens, Victoria Yards has a deep-rooted community ethos which extends to the well-being of the neighbourhood. Initiatives include a  wellness clinic that offers healthcare services for a small fee. 

Our first stop was at the studio of artist Arlindo Maunde whose work delves into the complexities of life, offering abstract, colourful and shadowy canvases that evoke deep emotions and introspection. His art is a reflection of the vibrant, multifaceted spirit of Johannesburg. 
 
JOZI, Da city that never sleeps ll by Dario Manjate. Photo: Dario Manjate via Instagram.

We then visited Dario Manjate who transforms old magazines donated by the community into impressive artworks, breathing new life into discarded materials and further highlighting Vic Yards's commitment to sustainability. 

We also stopped in at the studio of Mandy Shindler, an architect by education, who takes her artistic journey in a unique direction by experimenting with earth pigments, screen printing and textile dyeing. She seamlessly blends discarded and natural fabrics with architectural techniques serving as a testament to the innovative fusion of art and design. 
 
The Three Widows by Mandy Shindler. Photo: Mandy Shindler via Instagram. 

We then popped into Zyle Clothing which infuses African blankets and utility wear into their fashion, paying homage to the rich cultural heritage of the continent. Their creations are a beautiful synthesis of tradition and modernity. 

Next was Pulp Paperworks, a studio that practises the art of hand-bound bookbinding using traditional Southern African shweshwe fabric, recycled paper and other materials, creating not just books but pieces of craftsmanship and storytelling. 

Community outreach is an integral part of the Victoria Yards experience. The humming of the sewing machines and the laughter of the workers in the Faktory workshop is a sound that can so eloquently be described as the soundtrack of this space. Faktory collaborates with renowned brands like Truworths, Foschini, Cross Trainer, and emerging labels to create clothing for them. This demonstrates the spirit of co-operation and support that thrives within the artistic community of 'the yards'. 

The walk over to the Inner City Ink factory was scenic, replete with water features and greenery. Specialising in screen printing using organic and eco-friendly inks, their open-plan workroom was hot and full of machinery. Their work not only promotes sustainability but also creates job opportunities in an eco-conscious way. Shwe is also dedicated to empowering the community by repurposing recycled billboards into unique and functional products. 

We were excited about our visit Tshepo Jeans (one of our favourite Joburg brands) where the Presidential slim-fit jeans first came to life in 2015. Tshepo Mohlala's journey from filmmaking to fashion designer epitomises the spirit of reinvention and creativity, a transition that led to the creation of the brand synonymous with Joburg style. 
 
Sonneglas solar lanterns are proudly made in South Africa. Photo: Sonneglas via Facebook. 

We stopped off at a peculiar sculpture that at first glance resembled a large drum, however, the burnt orange, rusted metal structure was revealed to be a podium used for music performances and spoken word. Sonneglas, the creators of the structure, reuse Consol glass jars to produce solar lights that not only adjust to the light intensity but are charged by magnets on the top. After meeting the team in the sale store we walked over to the workshop where the panelled bottle tops are made and packaged, and where the process from start to finish was explained to us. With nearly four million units made, Sonneglas combines eco-friendly practices and technology with creativity. 

We ended off the tour at Art of the Continent, a store filled to the brim with accessories and home décor from across Africa, primarily from West Africa. This huge store is set in a historic warehouse and filled with artefacts. A great place to find elegant, traditional items for the home such as beaded figurines, Malian mud-cloth cushions and colourful, hand-woven baskets. You'll never know what you'll find there, but guaranteed you'll discover something that suits a variety of styles and aesthetics, from minimalist black and white garden chairs to a chest of drawers. 

Victoria Yards host free artisan tours every day. The tour guides are friendly and always keen to know more about you while they help you engage with the artisans in case you're a bit on the shy side. It's the perfect way to get better acquainted with the tenants in the lead-up to Victoria Yards's monthly First Sunday markets and other activities. 

Apart from First Sunday, from Mon – Sun, the history tour and walkabout runs for half an hour and starts at 10:30 daily; to visit the different artisan studios (like we did), join the hour-long tour at 11:00 daily. Otherwise, to organise artist studio visits outside these times, contact Sine on +27 76 399 7074.

Related Events

Saturday Sep 7 15:00–20:00
Night of 1000 Drawings 2024 exhibition at Victoria Yards

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