Woodstock - Tags, Graffiti & Street Art pt. 2

Back on the streets and into the hood, each corner we turned within the maze of Woodstock's streets  held something of a surprise. Note how the minaret of the mosque in the background adds to the Islamic theme of the mural. minaret in background

Then there's Gympie Street, a once notorious part of Woodstock famed for gang clashes, heavy drug dealing (the locals call it Drug Alley) and “smash and grab” thefts and muggings. They've obviously cleaned it up quite a bit and the street art adds a civilized air to a street once known as one of the most dangerous in the world.

elephant on gympie street

kings and castles

We were surprised and disappointed to see some work defaced by taggers. We wondered the thoughts, if any, behind the vandalism. Dislike of the work? Disrespect to the artist? Or more probably … I've got a spray can and want to put my mark here?

tagging over street art

Some of the buildings are so derelict and dilapidated, we wondered how they managed to still be standing. Others had been reclaimed and gentrified … fresh paint, windows replaced, latched ornate gates leading to small garden plots. There seems to be no distinct line of demarcation between the two and the street art works to tie it all together

heart figures


Vacant lots, strewn with trash and old rubbish, begged to be included … and they were.

vacant lot


vacant lot


vacant lot

The messages are varied. Masai from the UK concentrates on endangered species.

endangered giragge


endangered gorilla

We especially liked several murals by Jack Fox. The shrewd “fox” always has a story to tell.

jack fox mural


jack fox mural

And so, we've shared with you some of what we saw, but I did save the best till last. My favorite ...

zebra suit

By the way, if ever anyone asks me to describe a perfect day … this was mine.

Note:  I did my best to attribute the artist's name to every piece that I could. For those I could not attribute, I beg the pardon of the artist.

Woodstock - Tags, Graffiti & Street Art pt. 1

“Graffiti (plural of graffito … really?) are writing or drawings that have been scribbled, scratched, or painted illicitly on a wall or other surface, often in a public place.” It derives from the Italian sgraffio (to scratch) and/or from the Greek graphein (‘to write’) and it's been around since the beginning of civilization … think about the cavemen and their cave walls. bad graffiti only

After our last visit to Woodstock  and a little on-line research, I was left with wondering about the subtle differences between graffiti, tagging and actual street art. When I saw the elaborately painted murals and paintings on buildings in Woodstock, I knew I was looking at art. I felt the difference, but I was trying to verbalize it. So what's the difference? The general consensus is that it's about the “artist's” intent.

tagging and graffiti by railway station

Tagging is merely leaving your name or “tag” symbol on any public surface. It's usually not particularly skillful and mostly completed in one or two colors with spray paint or big thick markers. Though we've seen some artful tagging, it usually falls into the defacement or  vandalism category. “BTS” seems to be the most active tagger in Woodstock. His (her?) tags are everywhere … unfortunately.

bts tags

A few years ago, our nephew, Nick, got caught tagging and paid a very hefty fine for it plus had to do community service. I asked him his views on tagging. He said “It's not about the surface cover. It's about the location … leaving your mark ... like gangs use tags to say this is their area n maybe u cover up some one elses tag or u can use to advertise yourself. Sometimes i do it compulsively like if i have a writing implement i just scribble something out. Graffiti and street art usually have a message but tagging is a personal kinda conceited thing.”

i must not write on walls

The intent of tagging according to Nick, and I agree, seems to be self-aggrandisement … “I was here! Aren't I something!” … no sharing, no beautification, no message. All that said, Nick has some real talent that we all enjoy … just not on public buildings. His artwork would fit right in on some of Woodstock's buildings though.

nick's artwork

Back to Woodstock. Though it has its fair share of tagging and random graffiti, it is street art and urban murals that captured our attention last time and drew us back for a closer look. The intent of the art, according to Freddy Sam, local resident, self-taught artist, and one of the prime movers of Woodstock's  street art movement, is the  beautification of the area and pride in the neighborhood.

street art collage

This is urban communication at its best and it's a collaborative effort. The talented artists are from around the world. Their messages, whether whimsical or socio-political statements, are clear. Their work appears on buildings and walls and public places with the permission of the owners. It's an open air gallery … and it's wonderful. In the words of Freddy Sam, “Removing the greyness from the soul of the city is the job of musicians, artists and poets.”

freedom day by freddy sam


its almost like cotton I did my homework on the internet before we left. Though there's a plethora of blog posts and articles dedicated to Woodstock's street art, none really give directions to specific locations. There are tours available, but we prefer to wander on our own. After reviewing several photos which showed street signs, I was able to narrow down our search to a walkable grid. We meandered through a labyrinth of decaying, crumbling buildings and dicey streets between Albert and Victoria Roads.

rhino mural by binho and cern


living apart entwined

We traipsed up one parlous street and down another from Barron Street east towards Essex. Locals tell us this isn't a safe area to be walking, but we had no problems and never felt threatened. It's definitely dodgy and has a bad reputation and we probably wouldn't do it at night. But it was a sunny, gorgeous day and we greeted people with a smile and a good morning and received the same in kind. Some teenagers were playing football at the crossroad of two narrow streets, while others shot dice on a corner. They shouted “Take our picture.” We waved and I took a photo.

teens playing street games

We stopped at Side Street Studios and peered in through the gate. An attendant from the adjacent shop waved us in and let us pass through to the inner courtyard area. Local artists like DALeast who live and work in this studio have taken free rein of all available wall space and used it to good advantage.

daleast side street studio

We stopped in the renovated, upscale Woodstock Exchange, an old warehouse building akin to the Old Biscuit Mill. It's a warren of tiny cafes and unique shops offering everything from gourmet lunches, coffees and teas to small galleries and skateboard sales and repairs … kind of a hipster heaven and a magnet for yuppies. Artwork is a distinctive part of the décor, but the place seems incongruous to the neighborhood surrounding it.

woodstock exchange

We revived ourselves with a coffee at the kitchy little Starling & Hero Bicycle Cafe which had lots of bicycles on display along with other funky bric-a-brac that kept us occupied while we waited for our coffees. I picked up several flyers for events going on at local Cape Town galleries in the upcoming weeks. If we're here much longer, maybe we'll be able to check some of them out. Actually, if we're here much longer, we might have a chance to paint a mural or two ourselves.

bicycle cafe

Come back tomorrow to explore more of Woodstock's outstanding street art with us. We're saving the best till last.

Woodstock - A Trendy, Authentic Suburb

After visiting the Old Biscuit Mill, I wanted to learn more about the history of the Woodstock. Located at the base of Devil's Peak and not far from Table Bay, Woodstock used to be a beachside community until the 1930-1940s when the land was “reclaimed” from the bay to construct Duncan Docks (the port and marina area) and the foreshore. Like most of Cape Town, the wind rips through frequently, hence the local's nickname of Windsock rather than Woodstock. We thought it odd when we spotted the Beach Road sign, but then, of course, less than a century ago, that made sense. woodstock beach in the 1940s

Unlike many areas of Cape Town, Woodstock escaped the effects of the Group Areas Act of the apartheid years and thus, always remained a racially mixed suburb. It has its rough spots and  a definite industrial bend, but gentrification is certainly morphing the area into an interesting kind of place. We walked from the marina past the not-very-scenic container docks and over the N1 highway via a Customs turnstyle and a pedestrian overpass. Once on the other side of the highway, we were in the thick of the industrial area with narrow, uneven streets and huge stone and brick factory mills surrounding us. A short, circuitous walk led us to a set of metal stairs over the railroad tracks and then down again. We could see the train tracks below and the traffic on Albert Road just up ahead of us.

dreary overpass

Woodstock was originally known as Papendorp, named after a Dutchman, Pieter van Papendorp who owned the land. The Battle of Blaauwberg (Blue Mountain) was fought nearby between the British and the Dutch and a treaty was signed in 1806 under an old milkwood tree, beginning the second British occupation of the Cape Colony. On Treaty Road, we found the old, gnarled milkwood, known as the Treaty Tree. “It’s not exactly clear how old the milkwood tree is, but some say it was a landmark for Portuguese sailors in the days before the Dutch landed at the Cape in 1652 ...What is more certain is that slaves were sold under its shade (and sometimes hanged from it).” Though it's fenced in and considered a National Heritage Site, sadly, there are are no markers or plaques describing its place in history. It's just an old tree that's seen a lot of Cape Town's history.

old treaty tree

Definitely more prominent than its hidden history is Woodstock's street art. Midst the tagging and graffiti, we found amazing artwork done on the sides of Woodstock's rather derelict buildings. Woodstock is known for its artists' residences and studios, but here artwork is not just relegated to galleries … it's everywhere.  Local resident and artist, Freddy Sam, started this beautification project and several other local artists, as well as artists from around the world have pitched in. I'd like to return to this area if we have a chance and just wander around finding more street art to photograph.

street art woodstock south africa

We wandered past old factory buildings and one in particular caught our attention. The Cape Bag Depot advertised a factory store offering Hessian (??) and the door was open. How could we resist? There were burlap (Hessian cloth in South Africa) bags of every color and size, as well as screen-printed bags and fabric on display. Tiny bags and huge grain sacks. Jute twine and rafia filled bins. Heavy rope was coiled on the floor at the back of the no-nonsense factory showroom. I picked out a zebra bag for R32 (about $3US) and saw the same bag later at a V&A shop for R320 ($30US) … quite a mark-up  or, in my case, quite the bargain.

bag depot

Albert Road is lined with tiny, brightly colored row houses and little shops. Some shops are chichi, interspersed with basic convenience stores and cheap stuff. Dilapidated buildings alternate with restored ones. Vehicle traffic is heavy and congested on the two-lane street. Cars are parked haphazardly wherever they can fit (or not). The sidewalks are narrow and sometimes nearly non-existent with shopkeeper's wares, buskers and crumbled pavement taking up walking space. Pedestrians walk at their own risk, spilling over into the street as necessary.

colorful shops

There are also several antique shops along the route. In particular, Delos Antiques was interesting. Housed in old St. Mary's School, this shop specializes in chandeliers and architectural items. Though we didn't venture inside (maybe next time), the outside yard was filled with all sorts of bric-a-brac and big, cool stuff that definitely wouldn't fit on a boat.

delos antiques

I'm hoping we get a chance to return to this quirky little suburb and do some more exploring. Extracting David from the boat and the chainplate issues and the varnishing isn't easy, but once in awhile it's a healthy thing … for both of us.