One of Joburg’s most vibrant examples of inner city regeneration, the student district of Braamfontein (or simply ‘Braam’ as the locals know it) is defined by its busy nightlife, cafe culture, hip street fashion and an addictive creative energy that attracts a youthful alternative crowd at any hour of the day. The streets of Braamfontein are also filled with edgy galleries, public art installations and a riot of colourful graffiti murals that can be spotted on almost any corner, which all adds up to make this one of the city’s most creative neighbourhoods.
Here’s a look some of the most awesome public art installations to look out for in Braamfontein:
Nzunza by Hannelie Coetzee
Unveiled in August 2018 Hannelie Cotezee’s Nzunza is a 10 storey tall mural on the side of the 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.
The People Shall Govern
American street artist Shepard Fairey (best known for the Hope posters created as part of Obama’s presidential campaign) created this 200 metre high mural in 2014 in tribute to the 1989 Purple Rain protest. In 1989 peaceful protestors came up against riot police armed with tear gas and batons in downtown Cape Town. The protestors were also attacked by a water cannon filled with purple paint, which the police hoped would ‘brand’ identify the protestors later for arrest. The plan backfired however when the protestors took control of the cannon and used it to fire purple paint onto the police. In the following days graffiti tags spread across the city declaring ‘The People Shall Govern’ a pun on the opening phrase of the anti-apartheid movement’s Freedom Charter.
Installed outside the Johannesburg city chambers and Civic Centre on Rissik Street in 1964, this bronze sculpture of three miners wielding a drill pays tribute to Joburg’s mining history. The monument is positioned so that the three miners face south west in the direction of the Langlaagte, where Joburg’s massive gold reef was discovered in 1886.
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.'
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 art works that have transformed these neglected and forgotten throughways into colourful corners of the neighbourhood. Stand out works include 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.
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, 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 Nard Star’s mural of South African female activists like Albertina Sisulu, Fatima Meer and Barbara Hogan (all of whom were imprisoned here) and Imraan Christian’s incredible series of five photo-realistic murals that present ordinary and extraordinary scenes inspired by South African people and places including a couple standing inside the core of Joburg’s famous Ponte tower and an almost mystical image of a Basotho man with a halo.
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 every years sees top graffiti artists coming to Joburg to paint large new murals, many of them located in Braamfontein. Local graffiti hotspots where you can find some of the coolest works include the alleyway next to Grayscale Gallery at 19 Henri Street and the corner of Eendract Street and De Korte Street. The building at 60 Juta Street (corner Jan Smuts Ave) which look onto the start of the Nelson Mandela Bridge has also often been used as a graffiti canvas with a collection of murals covering its lower walls, including one by Soweto-based artist Senzo.