I have been to Woodstock many times to visit the morning market at the Old Biscuit Mill, to buy second-hand furniture, paint, tyres, fabric and furniture shop at the Palms. Although the area still retains most of its original charm of spazza shops, small colourful houses and the narrowest of streets… it is also fighting a battle of gentrification with the advent of office blocks, upmarket apartment buildings and hotels.

The Woodstock graffiti art scene is relatively new. It originated about 10 years ago initiated by local artists with buy-in from the local community as a way to revitalise this area. I have caught glimpses of startling graffiti as I have driven past but I have never stopped and made the time to take it all in. And so, on a rainy Wednesday morning, I joined a free 90-minute graffiti art walking tour that took me through the streets and pointed out some of the over 40 pieces of street art in the area.

I loved the mix of international and local artists. I liked that a lot of the artists seemed to be female in a graffiti art scene that I had assumed (incorrectly) would be dominated by male artists. And there were even a few child graffiti artists. This mix of artists definitely reflected one of the predominant themes in the art which was celebrated the diversity of people living together (somewhat peacefully) but juxtaposed with the ever-present reminder of conflict between people. A big nod to South Africa’s past (and clearly present too).

“Freedom Day” by Freddie Sam

The other prevailing theme was animal conservation and exploring the connection between humans and animals. From a blue crane, to a rhino, zebra, giraffe, wolf and many monkeys, there were beautiful displays of different types of animals and the interplay with humankind. I can imagine this imagery must appeal especially to tourists who have been discovering this graffiti art for years before I got around to viewing it.

Rothchild Giraffe by Louis Masai Michel

Graffitti art is on a massive scale and so accessible to the public being on the street. It is also sadly subject to the wear-and-tear of the elements and to vandalism. It is not meant to last forever. One of my favourite pieces was of an elephant swimming in the ocean next to a woman who appeared to be drowning. Hopefully the elephant was on his way to save her. Apparently, this artwork is on a building scheduled to be torn down to be made way for fancy office blocks. The “for sale” sign was inelegantly plastered over the drowning women’s face.

I liked that the tour was free (obviously) and that our tour guide was so interactive asking us to comment and interpret on the pieces of art. The graffiti art definitely adds character to Woodstock and I couldn’t believe that as a Capetownian I had not participated in this hidden gem of an art tour before. I urge my fellow locals to go and explore before the whole area is gentrified with trendy co-working spaces, artisanal food shops and apartment buildings.

Details:

  • 90-min graffiti art tour
  • Meet at 66 Albert Road (Woodstock Exchange), Woodstock
  • Tours times daily: 10h00, 12h00, 14h00
  • Free tour but please bring cash to tip your tour guide
  • See: http://townshiparttours.co.za/ for more information