Cape Town is cooking! And, I am not talking about the gorgeous mountain, the spectacular Cape Town beaches or the numerous sizzling culinary delights that the mother city has to offer. Cape Town is the Art Capital of Africa. Lead by a serious bundle of home-grown talent, a cosmopolitan mix of people from all over the world, loads of young up-and-coming creatives and a host of excellent galleries to showcase the best that SA art and design has to offer… Cape Town is cooking, you will be spoiled for choice from street art in Woodstock to sculpture gardens in the mountains, Cape Town has some fabulous art spaces to take in and some terrific shops to pick up something really unique and African.
- Cape Town Street Art
- The City Bowl
- First Thursdays
- The Biscuit Mill
- Kalk Bay
- Zeitz MOCAA
- Norval foundation
One of the first things that tourists notice in Cape Town (after the mountain and the amazing views) is the graffiti. Adorning buildings, vacant walls and trains, street art brings the city to life. Graffiti is part and parcel of Cape Town’s streets and as the city moves through its’ cycles, so the art changes with it. While graffiti has its’ roots in gang culture, you don’t have to be a gangster to enjoy the art. Furthermore, much of the graffiti within colourful suburbs like Woodstock, Salt River, Observatory and Muizenberg is proving transcendent for many young artists.
Woodstock and Salt River are a great place to start your graffiti adventure. Scattered in alleyways, store fronts and abandoned buildings are the many offerings of Cape Town’s graffiti lluminati. There is a pretty cool ‘street art tour’ for those who want to get a little more in-depth knowledge of the important part that graffiti plays in these communities.
By nature, Cape Town graffiti artists are reclusive and illusive, much like the wild game in the Kruger National Park. Their ‘spoor’ or tracks are colour and wet paint, empty spray cans and abandoned step ladders and signature designs or tags. Being Africa, many of these graffiti murals are themed around nature and wild animals and this weird mix of nature and city life is vibrant and colourful. There are many, many fantastic artists on display from local talent like Falco One and Care Onelove to international graffiti superstars like DALeast.
Arguably South Africa’s most famous offering is Faith XLVII. Homegrown from the Mother City, Faith XLVII’s work can be seen all around Cape Town… Johannesburg, New York, St Petersberg - Russia, Vancouver- Canada, Los Angeles, New York, Florida USA, Colombia, India. My personal favourite – located in District 6 off De Waal drive – is “Harvest” which, through crowdfunding, is linked to bringing visibility to poorer neighbourhoods of Cape Town.
The great thing about Cape Town’s art scene is that there are plenty of galleries that support young talent. Because of its relatively small size, the City Bowl is easy to get around and choc-a-block full of fantastic art venues. First Thursdays is a fantastic initiative that gets people into the city at night to visit exhibition openings and soak up the cultural vibes of the Mother City. Galleries to visit include Salon 91, 99 Loop Gallery, and Young Blood.
First Thursdays is AMAZING! To encourage people to stay and linger in the city, on the first Thursday of every month, galleries and cultural venues stay open until 9 pm. It creates its’ own special vibe with people on the streets milling around, searching the exhibitions and soaking in the atmosphere. Best bit? It’s a totally free public event!
You can explore the city on foot moving from gin bars to gallery openings to book shops and more. There’s a smorgasbord of cultural events for you to choose from, and when you get tired of the crowds and the festivities, slip into any one of the city bowls fantastic restaurants. Many of Cape Town’s gallery spaces have tailored their exhibition programs to coincide with First Thursdays. This means that sticking around for first Thursdays is definitely worthwhile as it’s one of Cape Town’s must-do events!
Founded in 2008, Salon 91 takes its name from its location at 91 Kloof Street and the French word ‘salon’ which can be loosely translated as a “meeting of like-minded people”. Salon 91 is a boutique style gallery that showcases work by emerging and established contemporary artists of all disciplines. The team is passionate about developing a new brand of local talent, and to keep things fresh and exciting, the exhibitions change every three to four weeks.
99 Loop Gallery
On the corner of Loop and Church streets, the 1800’s façade is set off against the modern interior. 99 Loop offers a whole world to explore. Their ground floor hosts more playful installation-type exhibits while their new wing has over 100sq/m of exhibition space. Between installations and contemporary sculpture and paintings, 99 Loop also boasts a library, restaurant and coffee shop and a treed courtyard. It’s the kinda space that invites you in and doesn’t want to let you go.
The Young Blood Foundation is dedicated to helping young artists show their work and develop their artistic networks. Their mandate stretches across visual arts, dance, drama and music and as a result, there is always something happening at this unique Cape Town arts hub. Every month, they curate a full three storey exhibition which opens on First Thursdays. This beautiful venue on Bree Street is also home to FoodLAB which does amazing food with locally produced organic produce.
Beyond the City Bowl – Woodstock
Moving further afield, spread out across the Mother City is a whole network of contemporary galleries that are totally worth a visit. 34 Fine Art, Stevenson Gallery, SA Print Gallery, Artitis and the SMAC gallery are all great exhibition spaces with some wonderful offerings. However, if you want something a little more grounded, head for the Biscuit Mill (which is also the start of the graffiti tour) for some really quirky, fun, stylish and affordable offerings.
The Old Biscuit Mill has become a must-see destination. With an eclectic mix that offers good coffee, food, interior décor, crafts and some kick-arse design, there is something for everyone. Whether you just want to browse around or you are in search of that perfect gift or souvenir, The Old Biscuit Mill has got something for you. Two of my favourites at the Old Biscuit Mill are Exposure Gallery and QuirkyMe.
Quirky.Me is one of my favourite shops in Cape Town. Curated by the lovely Ingrid C., Quirky.Me’s tag line is “Kooky décor, Genius gifts”. It pretty much sums it up. Ingrid spends a lot of time hunting down some fabulous talent and always has new and interesting illustrators and designers. Aside from the innovative and original products and overall delightful experience, what’s the best bit? Spending time in Quirky.Me and picking up gifts for the people back home won’t break your budget. And, in case you don’t make it to the Old Biscuit Mill, Quirky.Me also has a shop at the Watershed in the V&A Waterfront.
Just up from Quirky.Me, you’ll find the Exposure Gallery. It is a photographic concept store where you can pick up some amazing cutting-edge prints from some leading photographers. This in itself makes it worth the visit however, the fun doesn’t stop there! Exposure Gallery is also a platform for non-traditional photographic products. You can buy a whole range of goodies from camera accessories to Lomography cameras and Lensbaby lenses. It’s a lot of fun to stick your head in and see what they’ve got.
Lastly, if you happen to be in Cape Town on the weekend, stop in at The Old Biscuit Mill for the Saturday Neighbourhood Goods Market. This market has been part of the catalyst for the urban renaissance that is now in full swing in Woodstock and surrounds. It brings together the best of local talent, music, food produce and food in an easy to digest market that positively bustles from week to week. If you are around, don’t miss it!
Another worthwhile stop in Woodstock is the Alex Hamilton studio gallery. This is a unique space because it is the space where Alex bases his practice. I love going into artists studios as it gives you a real sense of their work and what they are about. You get to see his drawings, paintings and explorations and also have an opportunity to purchase completed artworks that are displayed in the space. Being a workspace, Alex has a ‘by appointment only’ rule but it is well worth planning ahead.
On route to the African penguins in Simons Town, you will pass through Kalk Bay. A fisherman’s village in days gone by, today Kalk Bay is home to a cosy little theatre, some bohemian clothing stores, craft shops and a couple of really lovely galleries. Top of my list is the cleverly named Artvark (a clever play on the animal name Aardvark or earth pig).
Located in a visibly black house on the main road, next to the Kalk Bay theatre, the Artvark Gallery showcases a rich variety of South African art, both classic and contemporary. The works displayed are representative of the art and culture of a diversified South Africa and you can find everything from oil paintings to prints, metalwork and pottery. It’s a beautifully curated space. That is well worth a visit.
Add to this a pleasant stroll down the main road to the harbour via Olympia and Kalk Bay Modern and you have a leisurely morning out, spent in the company of good coffee, good food and extremely satisfying art.
Something a little different: Zeitz MOCAA, Norval Foundation
Cape Town is jam-packed with galleries and arty-crafty shops. The above list is better used as a point of departure but remember there are plenty of little gems waiting to be discovered in-between. The art on offer in Cape Town is also not limited to the smaller galleries, it’s got some big guns too!
The biggest thing to happen on the African art scene recently was the opening of the Zeitz MOCCA museum at the V&A waterfront. The project brewed for over a decade but eventually the stars aligned to convert the old harbour grain silos into the first major museum, dedicated to contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora, ON the African continent.
The Zeitz MOCCA hosts a plethora of art from all over the continent and it has loads of exhibition space to keep you busy and get you good and tired. The real draw-card, however, is the building itself. Designed by Heatherwick Studio, the conversion of the grain silo complex is truly jaw-dropping. From above and below, this space is designed to make an impact and to give you an experience like no other.
Following hot on the heels of the hugely successful opening of the Zeitz MOCAA, was the opening of Cape Town’s second signature art space, The Norval Foundation. Located in Steenberg – slightly away from the city on route to Noordhoek or Kalk Bay – the gallery is set in extensive gardens surrounded by pristine gardens.
Indeed, the merger of culture and nature is effortless. After being confronted by the industrial-brutalism of the Zeitz MOCAA, the Norval Foundation is a comparative breath of fresh air. Gallery spaces open onto a sculpture garden creating a sense of absolute harmony with the surrounding hills and mountains. This connection with nature goes more than skin deep.
The Norval Foundation, with over sixty solar panels and a water purification plant, is mostly off-grid. Located on a wetland that is home to the endangered leopard toad, construction includes tunnels for these critters to traverse the space safely. The sculptures that dot the landscape feel as if they are meant to be here. It is a marvel of tranquillity - a truly unique addition to the cultural landscape of Cape Town.
Cape Town, the Art Capital
What I love about the Cape Town art scene is that it is so easily accessible for people on a budget. First Thursdays, inspirational museums where you are encouraged to picnic on the lawns, and opportunities to get close to young fine-artists and the galleries that support them as well as a plethora of affordable outlets that don't compromise on quality. All this AND, in the same breath, to take in the vibrancy of the street art scene... It is all so deliciously intertwined it's breathtaking!