Behind the scenes at Open Studios Joburg

As Johannesburg In Your Pocket we have long maintained that Joburg’s contemporary art scene is one of the city’s most enlivening, distinctive and inspiring attractions. Where Joburg’s unkempt streets and neglected heritage sites often let our city down, the burgeoning contemporary art scene consistently shines a unique light that helps us find new reasons to love what this city has to offer. The artists in this city are indeed the real gold of this former mining town.

Visiting celebrities and ordinary international tourists all find Joburg’s edgy and energetic art scene a major drawcard. And of course an original South African artwork capturing the contradictions, triumphs, challenges and unique spirit of this place on canvas, always makes a brilliant souvenir.

Scene from the Open Studios Joburg media launch – a preview of the event taking place on May 28-29. Artist Sam Nhlengethwa in his August House studio. Photo: Eugene Ullman

The opportunity to meet artists in the spaces where they work – and in this city, often sleep – is a rare and special thing. To go behind the gallery wall and view the artwork in process, see the smudges of paint, the smell of wet brushes, the messiness of unfinished materials, the assemblage of the artist’s thoughts, sometimes their inspirations, or even what they ate for lunch – it’s an opportunity to go one step deeper towards apprehending the work. We relish these opportunities for conversation, insight, and meaning, as well as for connection in what can be an alien and alienating city.

As Joburgers we have always found that supporting Joburg’s galleries and artists is a consistent source of joy and pride, in what is sometimes a very challenging place within which to live and work. Which is why when presented with the opportunity by Sara Hallatt of Meta Foundation to work on Open Studios Joburg, we didn’t think twice! We are the official media partner for this event.

Invited media and guests at first stop, Victoria Yards. On the right is Sara Hallatt, director of the Meta Foundation, a visual arts NPO that collaborates with artists, instigates projects, artworks, exhibitions and art commissions, and inspires audiences. The foundation developed out of the need to provide programming to artists at August House, to encourage and support a thriving art ecosystem at the city’s largest artist studios complex.

Taking place on Sat May 28 and Sun May 29, Open Studios Joburg is the city’s largest on-the-ground art festival. Over two days, seven art buildings across the historic City Centre and beyond will open their doors to the public with over 100 artists welcoming visitors into their studios.
The different venues are connected together by a free shuttle bus and throughout the weekend there’s a programme of exhibitions, walkabouts, performance and design.

It’s a unique free art festival that gives invigorating life to the city’s status as an art capital (make sure to first register online here for a free ticket).

On May 17 we invited selected media for an intimate preview of the main event. In one day we travelled across the city to three different locations to meet unique artists and voices, all united by a common thread of working as an artist within a space that offers community, a certain kind of magic that Open Studios Joburg celebrates.

Here’s a look at what we got up to on the day.

The launch started at Victoria Yards with invited media gathering at Bond Society
As usual Foakes at Victoria Yards delivered a delicious home-baked spread.
First stop was the studio of abstract artist Simone Marie Farah. The artist left the corporate world after suffering a momentous personal loss, and her art has been part of her sense-making process.
From Victoria Yards in Lorentzville we headed to Sam Nhlengethwa’s studio at August House, the city’s largest art studio complex. Sam Nhlengethwa is one of Joburg’s most prominent artists, and his work foregrounds his interests in the city of Joburg, fashion, interiors and domestic spaces and his love of jazz music. The visit was accompanied by a tasting of Waterford wines.
The third stop was at Bag Factory Artists Studios in Fordsburg to meet Wezile Harmans whose evocative large-scale works form part of intricate performances. Having trained as a dancer Harmans brings different artistic disciplines into his practice.

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