Joburg Itinerary: Photographer Gulshan Khan

16 Aug 2023
Joburg photographer Gulshan Khan, whose work addresses social justice and human rights, has recently been featured on Exceptional ALIEN, a travel platform that lets people experience places around the world through culturally connected creators and interactive guides. Khan's bite-sized guide to Joburg gives a snapshot of Joburg through her lens, and is a great way to experience the city through food, art, music and fashion.
Khan first picked up a camera in 2015 to show people what she was seeing first-hand during the #FeesMustFall student protests in Johannesburg. She works in the heart of Johannesburg, a city she described to Exceptional ALIEN as constantly on the "precipice". She adds, "We're moving fast, we're developing fast. It's a migratory space – people come from all over the country, the continent, from all over the world." 

"My relationship with Johannesburg is one of wonder and angst. Living [in Joburg] is like you're getting a front-row seat. It's a very special place. It’s this emotional roller coaster, but I love it." 

We greatly admire Khan's work, and the Johannesburg In Your Pocket team was curious to get a taste of her Travel Playbook. Here's the spots she recommended.

Keyes Art Mile

Keyes Art Mile is a favourite art hub for Khan, with its choice of galleries. Photo: Rosebank Management District. 

Within walking distance of Rosebank's malls, at the corner of Jan Smuts and Jellicoe avenues, is the start of Keyes Art Mile, an exciting development that has revitalised a formerly quiet street to become what Khan describes as a "modern art hub". The Trumpet building, Keyes Art Mile's landmark building, is an impressive contemporary space focused on local art and design, galleries and showrooms. The vast atrium is curated as a gallery space and often hosts pop-up exhibitions.

Our pick right now is Mary Sibande and Lawrence Lemaoana's collaboration with print studio Danger Gevaar Ingozi Studio (DGI Studio), called Occupying the Gallery, a reimagining of Gallery 1 as a working studio for nine artists. The gallery is currently open for walk-ins, and while it may not look like it's ready, we urge you to walk in and engage with the artists. The print portfolio exhibition is on show until Fri, Sep 1, 2023. Keyes Art Mile is also the home of First Thursdays, a gallery night at the start of each month.  

Upstairs there's a cluster of slick restaurants and bars, while chic design stores, cafés and the BKhz Gallery open out onto a street flanked by wild olive trees. Read our interview with the founder of the gallery and artist, Banele Khoza here. Khan also highlights that there are other galleries close by including Everard Read and Circa Gallery across the road which houses impressive temporary exhibitions by leading South African artists. Currently, more than 20 works by artists that include Nandipha Mntambo, Sanell Aggenbach and Mark Rautenbach are on show as part of their Winter Group Exhibition that runs until Sun, Aug 26, 2023. 

Momo Kuro

Momo Kuro at Keyes Art Mile
Momo Kuro at Keyes Art Mile. A hidden delight. Photo: Momo Kuru. 
Khan recommends lunch at Momo Kuro after enjoying the art at the galleries at Keyes Art Mile. Part of the homegrown Momo chain, whose other branches include Momo Baohaus in Greenside and Momo Soko in Illovo, Momo Kuro is one of our favourite restaurants from the Asian street food-inspired brand, a stand-out winner for its impressive location on the top floor of the iconic Trumpet building in Keyes Art Mile. It's one of those hidden away spaces in Joburg, accessible only via the back stairs inside the building. 

Khan says she loves how unique Momo is in its approach to each of the branches. As at other Momo restaurants, the menu specialises in bite-sized Asian street food such as filled bao buns, Korean fried chicken and dim sum. Menu specialities that are exclusive to the Momo Kuro branch include some of our favourites: super-spicy, crispy firecracker chicken, the classic Szechuan fiery green beans and the prawn wontons served in a Szechuan pepper and chilli oil. 

Apartheid Museum

A look at South Africa's troubled past at the Apartheid Museum. Photo: Apartheid Museum. 

The extensive Apartheid Museum strives to show the bitter realities of the apartheid system from many angles and a visit is an unforgettable, thought-provoking and at times difficult experience. The story of South Africa’s struggle for democracy is compellingly told with powerful displays and interactive elements, and through everyday heroes as well as historical leaders.

Khan notes the Apartheid Museum is a must-see to understand our history and our context. "It has the right level of poignancy and visually visceral work to create that movement within your heart and your stomach when you understand how vicious and challenging our history is. At the same time, it's beautifully designed in a way that takes you through a journey," she said to Exceptional ALIEN. 

Throughout, this extraordinary museum brings to life the horrors of apartheid, especially the petty cruelties inflicted on the everyday lives of black South Africans. At the entrance with your ticket, you will randomly be assigned as 'white' or 'non-white'. You are then led through separate entrances designed to illustrate the degrading ways in which the 'non-white' population were forced to live consistently with substandard facilities, while institutions and facilities used by the white population were always of a higher quality.

Maropeng Visitors' Centre for the Cradle of Humankind

Maropeng - Supplied by Maropeng
Maropeng Visitor's Centre was designed to resemble an ancient burial mound. Photo: Maropeng,

Maropeng is the official visitors' centre for the Cradle Of Humankind, a cave-strewn area 50km northwest of Johannesburg where some of the world's most significant hominid discoveries have been made. Declared a World Heritage Site in 1999, fossils continue to be found here, with the most recent significant discovery made in 2013.

The Maropeng visitors' centre building (Maropeng means 'returning to the place of our ancestors') is designed to resemble a burial mound. Khan says: "I’m a sucker for beautiful architecture and design that’s really contextual and organic. The structure rises up out of the ground like an anthill or a heap of sand, and it’s symbolic of all these fossils coming out of the ground in the same way." 

The extensive modern exhibition takes an interactive approach to the history of life as we know it from the Big Bang to the evolution of humankind, the discovery of fire and the spread of people across continents. Khan acknowledges the thought put into how everything is laid out and how visitors experience the knowledge imparted to them. "To think of the possibility of all civilisation having come from this very spot is something to be proud of. It reminds me of how small we are in the greater scheme of everything, in our history," Khan adds in her interview with Exceptional ALIEN.

Nirox Sculpture Park 

Nirox Sculpture Park in the Cradle of Humankind. Photo: Nirox Foundation. 

Nirox Sculpture Park is a meticulously landscaped 15-hectare park in the Cradle of Humankind. It's a beautiful setting for a regularly changing collection of contemporary sculptures created by local and international artists. Dozens of sculptures are scattered through the park popping up beneath willow trees and amongst shady groves, lying in wait amid the rolling lawns and emerging from the wetlands that meander through the space.

Khan mentions to Exceptional ALIEN that because of the taxing nature of her work she appreciates getting away to a place where there are lots of trees, moving water and art. She highlights that the park is a testament to an evolving way of viewing art, calling it a fantastic and unique experience that includes food and live performances. Mark your calendars for the Nirox Spring Jazz concert on Sun, Sep 3, 2023. 


Gulshan Khan at home in Melville. Photo: Andile Buka via Exceptional ALIEN.

In close proximity to Joburg's two main universities, the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Johannesburg, Melville has always attracted students and academics and is a favoured neighbourhood for the city's writers, artists, performers and poets. Established in 1896 on the edge of the rocky Melville Koppies, what was once a sleepy, old-fashioned suburb, is now a colourful neighbourhood with a friendly atmosphere. Melville is where Khan calls home; she says in her interview that "it's such an amazing privilege to still be able to live where you can walk and get coffee and something from the bakery".

She spends time working at IT CornerTilt Coffee for a cup of something hot, and Book Circle Capital buying the books she wishes she had as a child. Melville also boasts thrift stores where you might be able to find a treasure or two. "When you walk down the street, you're meeting your neighbours; saying hello to everybody," said Khan to Exceptional ALIEN. 

Check out Khan's Travel Playbook to Johannesburg with Exceptional ALIEN here
To see more of our Joburg itinterary series – which even covers a guide for introverts, head here

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Momo Kuro

Trumpet (top floor), Keyes Art Mile, 21 Keyes Ave, Rosebank


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