Cape Town Street Murals: Unexpected Treasures

It was the iconic images of Table Mountain and Lions Head Mountain that drew us to Cape Town, along with the chance to enjoy its incredible coast and game parks.  But the reality of life around Cape Town is more complex and was evident immediately as we drove into the city along the N2 from the airport. Past informal settlements, previously referred to as shanty towns, constructed of mismatched, corrugated tin panels under a tangle of telephone poles strung with powerlines that looked like a forest of Christmas trees.  This cataclysmic landscape improved to newer and featureless concrete block housing developments the closer we got to the city.  But then the palette changed.IMG_7124It’s here that we first noticed the really interesting street murals that could be seen on some of the homes.  Not gratuitous bubble-scripted graffiti, but pictorial or political works of art relating to freedom, equality and hope by talented artists that enhanced their surroundings.

Originally they were just interesting side notes as we discovered Cape Town.  Every city and town seem to have street art nowadays.  But as we encountered more of it around the town, it was evident that the street murals here were of a higher caliber,  and that the communities were willing to provide large walls to local and international artists as blank canvases for creative expression. IMG_4658In our exploration of Cape Town, we accidentally and to our delight, came across many wonderful murals while walking or driving about.  Behind our apartment on Harrington Street a wonderfully, whimsical mural of a dog dreaming about flying, by Belgian artist Smates, always made us smile when we walked by.  IMG_4663Farther down the street in District 6, across from Charlie’s Bakery, a colorful mural graced the back of a small building in a parking lot, while its front wall featured an understated portrait of Nelson Mandela by Mak1one. IMG_4435And at the bus station, under the highway, across from the Gardens Shopping Center the dismal gray walls sprang to life with imagery.

Some of the murals are political, commemorating the leaders of the anti-apartheid movement.  On the corner of Longmarket and Adderly Streets, in central Cape Town, side-by-side portraits of Desmond Tutu, Winnie Mandela and Nelson Mandela have been painted by three different artists.

Even walking through already colorful Bo-Kaap revealed tucked away artistic works scattered across this hilly community under Signal Hill.IMG_4037

Many times while driving through the city we would catch a glimpse of color – something that looked interesting down a side street – and circle around to check it out.  This is exactly what happened one day as we headed to lunch at the Ocean Jewels Fresh Fish shop in the old Woodstock Exchange building on Albert Street.IMG_7328 Turns out the Woodstock and Salt River neighborhoods are ground zero for freedom of expression based on the number of street murals we discovered just by driving around.  One seemed to lead to another around the corner.  IMG_7140When we stopped to photograph the mural of the swimming elephant, one of the unofficial parking guards introduced himself as the “curator of street art” and offered to guide us.

We declined and further along discovered the portrait of an endangered mountain gorilla painted by Louis Masai, a London artist who dedicates his work to wildlife conservation awareness.IMG_7213

The streets surrounding the renovated Old Biscuit Mill where the Saturday only Neighbourgoods Market is held were ripe with interesting street murals. Many are of a monumental scale and are within easy walking distance of the mill.IMG_3359Traveling along Victoria Road in the Salt River district, the large mural of a pangolin, painted by Belgian street artist ROA, covers the wall of a factory.  It was painted one year during Cape Town’s International Public Art Festival (IPAF) when local and international artists are invited to wash the district with color for 5 days in February.  IMG_3368The festival is sponsored by BAZ-ART, an NGO that “is dedicated to harnessing the power of art for the benefit of the public – to engage – empower – uplift.”  In the four years that the festival has been running over 100 murals have been created in the Salt River district.  They have a very good website with a map showing the location of all the murals they have sponsored throughout the community.

Muizenberg has its fair share of street art scattered across its small downtown area and near the Blue Bird Garage Food and Goods Market.  But one of its most iconic murals of an elephant was painted by Capetonian and District Six artist Falko One on the side of a bath house located on a desolate stretch of Sonwabi Beach on the outskirts of the town.IMG_8435 His style is very distinctive, and we recognized many of his works as we traveled around the Cape.  Back in town the exterior wall of Surfstore Africa is playfully illustrated with a giraffe wearing sunglasses.IMG_3393Our most unexpected discovery happened at the indoor parking garage of the Pick N Pay grocery store in Sea Point.  Here several beautiful portraits were painted on the walls of the driving ramp leading from one level to the next. IMG_8888

Hidden away from public view, their discovery was like finding a Renoir in your grandparents’ attic.  Just stunning.  Hopefully, these talented artists have found larger and more visible walls to grace with their talents.

Till next time,

Craig & Donna

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