The best way to get to know Joburg is to hang out with someone who has fallen for the place. In our Ask a Local series we chat to some of our favourite Joburg city people and to visitors who have found themselves feeling at home here to get the lowdown on what makes Joburg unique.
ELS VAN MOURIK is a Dutch creative consultant and storytelling coach who divides her time between Joburg and The Netherlands. Specialising in visual storytelling, van Mourik launched African Art Stories in 2008 as a platform to share her fascination for storytelling and contemporary African art. Follow African Art Stories on Instagram at @african_art_stories.
In town for Art Week and the FNB Joburg Art Fair Els van Mourik gives us her take on the city.
What brought you to Joburg?
The contemporary African art scene with its open artist studios, galleries, art weeks and art fairs, artist walkabouts and talks, performances, music etc. Besides that, there is the historical connection between South Africa and The Netherlands – I am still learning about the colonial ties which are so little spoken about in the Netherlands but which are so visible around Joburg and the rest of the country.
One thing no one would expect to hear about Joburg?
That Joburg, and South Africa as a whole, has an amazing art history and a very dynamic art scene.
Favourite Joburg suburb?
The area around Bertrams on the eastern side of the city. It may be a forgotten area but it’s a wonderful suburb where artists and small businesses are creating new studios by renovating the old buildings.
Three things a visitor should not leave Joburg without experiencing:
Open days at an artist studio collective such as The Bag Factory, August House, Victoria Yards or Artist Proof Studios, a performance or talk at The Centre for the Less Good Idea and First Thursdays in Braamfontein or Rosebank.
Favourite restaurant or cafe?
The Artivist in Reserve Street in Braamfontein. I always find the visual art on the walls inspiring and they serve very tasty and healthy food.
Favourite place to relax in the city?
Uncle Merv’s on the corner of Fox Street and Kruger Streets in Maboneng. A mother and her son run this coffee place and besides for good coffee and cakes they are also always willing to help you out with any questions or problems you might have.
Favourite place to shop?
Anywhere that I can search for art books. I love to read about the latest developments in contemporary African art, so gallery book corners and bookshops.
Top tip for a first-time visitor to Joburg: Visit the Apartheid Museum
The most underrated Joburg sight or experience?
Johannesburg Art Gallery. It needs everyone’s support to help it get back on track!
Best things about Joburg: As an entrepreneur I love that it is so dynamic – you can have an idea and just go and try to realise it.
Worst things about Joburg: Keeping warm in the winter! No insulation. Last winter giving talks with my winter coat on brought back memories of my work as a business coach and consultant in the Former Soviet Union, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when there was no heating and hot water. You had to sleep with your clothes on and I was training with a woolly hat and gloves on.
Favourite Joburg people: The Uber taxi drivers. Even when they tell me that I am catching a ride in a risky area, they always find me and take me where I want to go without any problems. They are my heroes in this town!
Three words that describe this city … Inspiring, Arty, Hidden.