Over the past few years. I’ve loved getting to know Joburg’s inner city, an area that was “off-limits” to me for so long. However, I have to admit that I did this on my terms- on a touristy inner city bus or in food markets bustling with visitors, as opposed to residents, and within somewhat cordoned off areas, like Maboneng and Braamfontein.
While I think the development of these areas has played a pivotal role to the upliftment of the inner city, I was curious to see the real CBD, away from the glitz. I was still a bit afraid to explore all on my own, so I hooked up with Jo Buitendach, founder of Past Experiences, to show me around. Jo has a degree in History and Archaeology, and is currently studying her Masters in Conservation of the Built Environment. Her technical knowledge, combined with her passion for the inner city, makes her the perfect tour guide.
Her company, Past Experiences, offers the opportunity to feel the sights and sounds of Joburg, as well as its culture, architecture and archaeology by means of immersion. Unlike most tour operators, Past Experiences encourages you to interact with the city by walking through it and using its public transport, thereby truly experiencing it. The company also tries to uplift the communities within the city such that they benefit from the tours in a sustainable way, whether this be by organizing lunch at a local café, or encouraging guests to purchase snacks from local hawkers.
Past Experiences prides itself on being very inventive when it comes to tours, and is constantly coming up with new ideas for these. The shopping tours, where guests are given the chance to shop up a storm at bargain prices at various stores around the city, while interacting with and supporting locals at the same time, are among the most popular.
When Jo suggested that I join her on an “Inner City Graffiti Tour”, I wasn’t too keen. I’m no art fundi but I’ll happily visit a gallery or museum. Graffiti, however, has never been on my list of things to learn more about.
Before the tour, which was guided by some of the city’s most prominent graffiti artists, I saw graffiti as a form of vandalism and nothing more. The misconception around graffiti arises from the fact that it is gang related and done illegally or at night- which in reality, is not true at all. Once on this tour, I learnt that graffiti can be used as anything from a form of self expression to a political statement.
Past Experiences is hugely passionate about graffiti, as it provides another interesting layer to Johannesburg, adding colour and life to dull, grey walls. For some children who live in the city, that is the only art they will ever see. The graffiti tour focuses on the history of the movement internationally, as well as the culture in Johannesburg, which is fast becoming known as a world class graffiti destination, drawing top global graffiti and street artists to the city, simply to see all the incredible public art on display.
If you’re lucky, the artists themselves may be available to show you their work, and you will have the chance to see how immensely talented they are. These graffiti artists all have art degrees or qualifications, and for many of them, graffiti is a full time job, with many corporates hiring them for campaigns and promotions.
While some areas are “no go” zones, if there is already graffiti on a certain wall and no one paints over it after a few weeks, it’s pretty much free for artists to use as their canvas. We explored the Newtown area on foot, and discovered entire walls that had been painted with the most intricate graffiti designs, which was really eye opening. For the first time, I appreciated graffiti as a form of art, whereas previously I just saw it as youngsters messing around with a spray paint can.
Past Experiences can take things a little further, and arrange a graffiti workshop in collaboration with Two by Two Art Studio, a project space in the heart of Newtown, where you’ll have the opportunity to try out some of the graffiti patterns that were explained to you on the tour. The tours can also be formatted to suit large groups and corporates, and are already very popular with school groups.