Welcome to Woodstock: Check out Cape Town’s street art district
Fancy seeing another side to South Africa’s culture? A street art tour could be just what you are looking for.
The Oxford Dictionary defines street art as ‘Artwork that is created in a public space, typically without official permission’, however this is far from the case in South Africa’s capital. In Cape Town, locals are offering up the outside of their homes as canvases to artists from all over the world and the results are simply stunning. Giant murals are popping up all over the city and streets are busting with colour.
Nowhere has been painted, stencilled or sprayed more than the artistic hub that is known as Woodstock.
A movement that started here with a small group of artists, who wanted to inspire and educate others, has now made Woodstock a popular destination for art lovers and those interested in counter culturalism.
Local tour guide, Juma Mkwela, spends his days taking guest through the area telling the story of local life and culture using the work of the surrounding artist as his visual aid and inspiration. A task that started out as a pastime for Juma, quickly turned into a passionate business venture that has blossomed over the years.
“I was involved in the street art project in Cape Town where I worked with artists,” explains Juma. “I became the person who used to connect the artists and the community. Then somewhere along the line, there was a need for people to see all the art projects, so I started taking people to see them for free. I later realised that it was taking up a lot of my time, so I decided to turn it into a business. I’ve been doing the tours now for seven years.”
From those who want a simple overview of the area and need just enough time to take those Instagram photos, Juma offers bitesize experiences. He also caters for people who really want to delve into this world of culture and artistic liberation.
“We have a lot of different tours where people learn about art history and culture. The shortest one takes 30 minutes and the longest one is a 90-minute walk. We also have options for those who are really interested - we can do a half day.”
Development of an artistic centre
Juma explains that Woodstock wasn’t always the bustling artistic centre that it is today. He has seen a lot of change throughout his years as a tour guide in the area.
“The area of Woodstock wasn’t always so nice. It was very industrial and had lots of textile factories, but it has changed a lot in the last six year with gentrification. There are now a lot of new buildings and coffee shops.”
Visitors can feast their eyes on the works of both local and international artists when they visit Woodstock.
“We have artists from all over the world who come to paint in Cape Town. You can see work from the likes of Louis Masai, the London-based artist who paints endangered animals. There are also lots of local artists from Cape Town to see.”
Some of the artists have used their talents and platform to bring some of Africa’s wildlife to the city and offer a unique way for locals to enjoy their native creatures.
“I love animals, so I love the pieces based around wildlife. Africa has so much wildlife but it’s a shame because very few African people have access to them. So, artists are now trying to paint wildlife on the walls so that it inspires their imagination.”
What to expect
Juma explains that by taking a street art tour, visitors get a unique opportunity to learn about the province they are in.
“People can learn a lot about culture through art, but it also depends on which province you are in. South Africa is a big country with lots of different provinces and each one has a different culture. In Cape Town, they will learn about the culture here and all its different communities.”
He explains that as well as interacting with guests of the area, the local people play a key and special role in the street art scene in Cape Town.
“Local families get involved in a special way. They give their homes to the painters to use and they also prepare meals for the guests. Everyone that comes to do our tours can expect to see street art, to meet people, to eat local traditional dishes.”
As well as arranging for visitors to try some local dishes, Juma can also point them in the direction of some wonderful places to relax after their walking tour. Woodstock is quickly becoming a bohemian foodie destination, with lots of modern and vibrant businesses opening their doors in recent years.
Juma says that as part of the street art project, they endeavour to support as many of these local businesses as possible.
“We have meals that are prepared by the locals and we work with some local restaurants, we want to support local businesses. There is a great bar called Casa Bar in the Woodstock area. I recommend that pub because when you eat there, you will find everyone. The music is not only for one - it’s for everyone and every culture. It’s very much an artistic bar.”
Juma says that every day as a tour guide is different because of the people. He tries to encourage visitors to really live in the moment while they are there and take in everything around them.
“My favourite part of my job is to share stories and experiences. I enjoy when the guests get to interact with the locals. We might go to the same area, but we meet a different family and that makes each tour different.
“I say we don’t do tours - we do experiences. I always tell my guests in the beginning, let’s create memories because it’s the only time that we will have this time together. We might meet again tomorrow but it will create a different memory.”
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