Johannesburg

Public art and graffiti in Braamfontein

31 Jan 2022
One of Joburg’s most vibrant examples of city regeneration, the student district of Braamfontein (or ‘Braam’ as locals know it) has always been defined by its busy nightlife, a weekend market,  cafe culture, hip street fashion and a creative energy that attracts a youthful alternative crowd to the neighbourhood.

Art is part of Braamfontein's DNA – from the edgy Kalashnikovv Gallery at 70 Juta Street and Wits Art Museum, to a number of large-scale public artworks and plenty of colourful graffiti murals that mark the alleyways and buildings. This all adds up to make Braamfontein one of the city’s most creative neighbourhoods.

Here we have rounded up some of our favourite street art features in the neighbourhood. 

Juta Street Precinct 

Juta Street and its surrounds, hugged neatly by the Nelson Mandela Bridge onramp, is ground central for large scale artworks by some of the biggest local and international names. The works here have all been commissioned by Play Braamfontein, a design-driven property development company that is based at 6 De Beer Street, and owns many of the buildings in this part of Braamfontein – including rooftop bar and venue The Beach, and the new Braamfontein weekly market The Playground (formerly the site of Neighbourgoods Market) at the venue space Thirteen. 
 
Faith47 in Braamfontein - street art
Faith XLVII at 62 Juta Street, September 2021. Photo courtesy Play Braamfontein

To explore the area start at the service entrance of Smit Street, where you'll spot a minibus taxi made of hangers that is the work of artist Gordon Froud. Play Braamfontein developed the small sculptural park here. 
 
Looking towards the bridge you'll get an eyeful of the work done by South African artist Faith XLVII (Faith47) who is now based in the US – part of a series that pays homage to South African icons and the women of Johannesburg (the address for this piece is on Juta Street). 
Alec Edy painting "letmein' in Braamfontein. Photo courtesy Play Braamfontein
 
Behind it, the wall that wraps around the onramp is covered by "letmein" – a collection of the top 1000 most common online passwords painted by Melbourne-based Alice Edy in collaboration with Kalashnikovv Gallery and Play Braamfontein.
 
Shepherd Fairey Braamfontein The Purple shall govern
The Purple shall govern by Shepherd Fairey, Juta Street. Photo courtesy Play Braamfontein
 
Other major standouts for us are American street artist Shepherd Fairey's The Purple Shall Govern, a joyful 20metre high image of Nelson Mandela that recalls an anti-apartheid protest in the late 1980s in Cape Town when the police used a water cannon filled with purple dye to disperse the protestors. The plan backfired when 25-year-old Philip Ivey climbed up onto the armoured vehicle and turned the jet onto the police. In the following days graffiti tags spread across the city declaring ‘The Purple Shall Govern’ a pun on the opening phrase of the anti-apartheid movement’s Freedom Charter. Fairey is best known globally for the Hope poster he created as part of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
 
Falko's fantastic elephant at the JFF Rooftop

There are many notable other works in this area – by the likes of Karabo Poppy, Fred Clarke and DekorOne whose colourful interpretation of a Great Dane covers the entire facade of the Great Dane Bar on De Beer Street. We also adore Falko's iconic neon-bright elephants that playfully wander across different side-street walls in the Juta Precinct.  ​​​​​
 
Decor One Great Dane Braamfontein
Dekor One's Great Dane, on De Beer Street, Braamfontein. Photo courtesy Play Braamfontein

Also in Braamfontein

Here’s a look at other major public art installations to look out for in the wider Braamfontein neighbourhood. 

Nzunza by Hannelie Coetzee
Unveiled in August 2018 Hannelie Coetzee’s Nzunza is a 10 storey tall mural on the side of a building made from more than 2000 ceramic plates. The artwork is named and inspired by the history and culture of the Ndzundza (or Nzunza) Ndebele people who lived in the area in the 17th Century, long before the discovery of gold and the establishment of the city of Johannesburg. Coetzee says that from her research she also discovered that the Ndzundza/Nzunza Ndebele people also embraced a cultural inclusivity, often welcoming other ethnicities, such as Swazi and Zulu, into their community, hence diverse and multicultural Braamfontein made the perfect location for the mural. View this extraordinary work at 28 Jorissen Street.
 
Nzunza by Hannelie Coetzee. Photo by Gail Wilson
Nzunza by Hannelie Coetzee. Photo by Gail Wilson

​​​Eland
Artist Clive van den Berg’s sculpture of a giant buck with its aloe planters (2007) greets visitors to Braamfontein on Jan Smuts Avenue opposite the Wits Art Museum. Eland is 'a large representation of an eland on a corner where it has long since disappeared', wrote Van den Berg. The sculpture brings to mind San ancestors and the natural environment that has long since been taken over by a growing city. He added that he hoped the Eland would prompt 'reflection on our relationship to the past, and to the interconnectedness of environmental, cultural and spiritual destinies.'
 
Eland by Clive van den Berg Braamfontein
Eland by Clive van den Berg, Braamfontein

Braamfontein Alleyways
The alleyways that run parallel to De Korte and Juta Street, linking the cross streets of De Beer, Melle and Biccard host a collection of public artworks that have transformed these neglected and forgotten throughways into colourful corners of the neighbourhood. We love Tania Ohlsen and Sandile Radebe’s mirrored mosaic of a flock of birds on the corner of the Bannister Hotel building, Thabang Selai’s rainbow-coloured Braamfontein banner on the Grove Square made from recycled plastic bottle tops and Nkosinathi Simelane's steel cut out Urban Jungle.
 
Braamfontein's colourful alleyways

Constitution Hill memorial wall  ​​​​​
In the past year the street-facing exterior walls of the vast Constitution Hill complex, a former prison and now museum and home of the South African Constitutional Court, have been given over to local street artists who have used the space to create murals paying tribute to South African cultural heroes and struggle leaders. Highlights include NardStar’s mural of South African female activists like Albertina Sisulu, Fatima Meer and Barbara Hogan (all of whom were imprisoned here).
A dedication to South Africa's struggle heroines at Constitution Hill

Grayscale Gallery
Braamfontein is home to Grayscale, Joburg’s original graffiti-focused art gallery which also is one of the main places in the region where graffiti artists come to buy their spray paint cans. Grayscale pioneered the City of Gold urban art festival which for several years saw top graffiti artists coming to Joburg to paint large new murals, many of them located in Braamfontein. The alleyway next to the gallery at 19 Henri Street and the corners of nearby Eendracht Street and De Korte Street are a major graffiti hotspot with an always changing collection of colourful murals. 

Related Events

Every Tue, Thu, Sat 14:00
Braamfontein Street Art Tours with City Skate Tours

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