From a once bustling seaside resort to a semi-industrial area and now a bustling hub of creativity and hip coffee shops, the suburb of Woodstock just outside the Cape Town CBD has seen its fair share of re-invention over the years. Recently street art has been adding another voice to the transformation process.
A Short History
It’s hard to imagine that in the middle of the 19th Century, Woodstock, the semi-industrial area on the outskirts of Cape Town’s CBD, was once a seaside resort comparable to Brighton in the UK. However, in the years that followed, Woodstock became increasingly industrialised, especially after the substantial land reclamations in the 1950s that robbed the suburb of its beach. With the coming and going of industry, crime started creeping into the area with the area a definite no-go zone for tourists and even locals.
However, since the early 1990s Woodstock has undergone a gradual urban renewal process, especially in the last decade or so. These days Woodstock is undoubtedly the creative hub of the Mother City, with factories making way for artist studios, furniture showrooms and creative agencies occupying much of the area, and hip and trendy coffee shops and eateries lining its streets.
Street Art Transformation
Despite the great inroads made into the transformation of Woodstock, it is an ongoing process, and street art has played a major part in transforming the area into a safe and vibrant community, while adding to its lively creative character. It is this transformation that lies at the heart of artist Juma Mkwela’s street art tour, a 60 to 90 minute guided walk through the alleys and streets of Woodstock. It is not the purpose of the art to change Woodstock, says Juma, but to help transform the area and bring more people into its streets – making it safer for everyone.
Juma is a friendly and cheerful host with an in-depth knowledge of the art that adorns the walls and buildings of Woodstock, as well as the artists who created them. His insightful stories provide an understanding not only of the art, but of the meaning behind it and the role it plays in the area’s transformation. The majority of the art on display in the streets of Woodstock has some type of transformative message, from nature conservation to social justice, and general upliftment of the community, its social commentary that is often provocative. The array of work is as vast and diverse as the artists that created them, both local and international, young and old, unknown and world-famous, who have come to put their mark on the walls of Woodstock.
The nature of street art means that it is always changing, with new buildings, alterations, new gates and fences, and even vandals obscuring the art, and in some cases changing the meaning of what the artist originally intended. It’s this element that is often most fascinating to see, especially with Juma’s perspective. It also means that the tour is ever changing, and rewarding repeat visits.
A Sense of Community
The majority of the artwork is either done via proposal or commission and always with permission from the owners of the buildings on which the artwork is to be created. At the end of the day the art on walls and buildings of Woodstock is about the community, to make the area a safer and more pleasant place for the mostly impoverished community who live just beyond the bustling streets full of hip coffee shops and hotshot agencies.
Juma Mkwela’s Woodstock Street Art walking tour is a great way to not only appreciate great art, but also see this positive transformation in progress.
Tours are 60 to 90 minutes depending on the size of the group and covers a loop that starts at the Woodstock Exchange. For more information, contact Juma at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Stefan de Klerk