Johannesburg or ‘Joburg’, is South Africa’s biggest city and the country’s economic powerhouse. It is complex and gritty, but for those who love it and call it home, Joburg is addictive and electric. The city centre is jam-packed with graffiti and street art, making Johannesburg the epicentre of the South African graffiti scene.
Graffiti arrived relatively late to the streets of Johannesburg, first appearing in the mid to late 1990’s. It came at a time when the city was in a period of major degeneration; the perfect environment for graffiti to explode. And explode it did. Just as street art became a popular amidst the deterioration of 1970’s New York, so too did the downturn of Johannesburg’s city centre provide a grimy playground for early graffiti writers to hone their craft with a hip-hop soundtrack roaring in their ears.
Fast forward nearly two decades and the city is now home to a thriving graffiti and street art scene with big, bright and colourful characters and letters snaking their way across the walls. Although there are some stencils, stickers and smaller scale street art projects around, the majority of work in the city centre is tags, throw-ups, large scale graffiti pieces or big mural-style work. Graffiti is evident on a small scale in suburban Johannesburg, but graffiti and street art definitely take pride of place in the city centre, particularly in the low socio-economic areas on the eastern and western edges, such as Newtown, Jeppestown and Troyeville. Artists who regularly spray in the city are Myza420, Mars, Rasty, Tyke, Curio, Mein, Bias, Ryza, Riot, Drake and Tapz.
The rapid growth and recognition of graffiti has also received a boost by two regular festivals. “Back to City” is a hip-hop and street culture festival which sees the Underpass pillars in the Newtown precinct painted by Joburg and Soweto’s leading and upcoming crews and artists. The “City of Gold Festival” is an urban arts festival which over the last few years has brought in a number of major international artists to paint large scale walls alongside top local artists. These festivals and the rise of graffiti and street art in the city in general, have ensured that famed international artists like Shepard Fairey, ABOVE, Atomik, TASSO, ROA and HERAKUT (to name just a few) have all left their mark in Johannesburg.
Graffiti is gaining impetus with the amazing artists who keep on spraying, adding layer upon layer of paint, names and crazy creatures to our once grey, dull and uninspiring concrete walls. Graffiti in Johannesburg is still young, continually evolving and is destined to become bigger, bolder and better.