Take code names like Kev7, Opt1 and Damn Vandal, add terms like capping, lining out and bombing, throw in a few visits from the cops and it could be a hair-raising scene from the latest action movie where a clandestine hero saves the world from a corrupt all-powerful government. Actually, it’s one of Durban’s most creative suburbs. Glenwood’s street art scene has a lot more going on than just spray paint cans and random acts of rebellion.
Credit: Dane Forman. Caption: Graffiti can be described as writing or drawing on a wall or other surface usually, without permission and in public view.
Occupying the lower part of Durban’s Berea and overlooking the harbour, Glenwood features an eclectic mix of trendy restaurants, art galleries, museums, boutiques and parks. Diverse and vibrant, its residents are artists, musicians, designers, students and anyone else who enjoys being part of a creative community. It’s no surprise then that Glenwood houses one of the city’s most expressive collections of street art across its many forms.
BESETdurban, a movement that encourages Durbanites and visitors to explore the city on foot occasionally holds walks that take their 200 or so participants around the streets of Glenwood and neighbouring suburb of Umbilo. While many people might take a dim view of street art, one of BESETdurban’s founders, Jonas Barausse, says, “The lines between art and vandalism are very blurred. We think it’s important the public is informed, and the walk aims to shed light on this subculture, holding its heroes and heroines high to help people appreciate the artistry involved.”
Under the expert guidance of local artist, Glenwood resident and teacher, Iain “EWOK” Robinson, we set off to unlock the mysteries of Glenwood’s street art.
The KwaZulu-Natal Society of the Arts or KZNSA Gallery on Bulwer Road is arguably Glenwood’s artistic heartbeat. Originally established as an informal opportunity for local artists to discuss, exhibit and market their work, it’s now the province’s premier contemporary art gallery, hosting exhibitions of local, national and international importance. It also has a longstanding history of mural art which frequently adorns its Bulwer street frontage. The current mural, a huge and cheerful yellow painting of bees with the saying, “there’s no us without them” was done by none other than EWOK himself, so we knew we were in good hands for the day.
Credit: Melanie Rosettenstein. Caption: You can’t miss EWOK's honeybee mural on the side of the KZNSA gallery
The gallery is the kick off point for the walk and from here we headed to the Noble Road Park and Alley or the ‘Writer’s Bench’ where EWOK gave us some insights into the difference between sanctioned and unsanctioned street art and graffiti or ‘writing.’ The Writer’s Bench features art and graffiti from several generations of ‘writers’ or artists including the late Pastelheart who was well-known for his hyper-realistic graffiti creations, many of which have been left untouched since his untimely death in 2015. The intricate mishmash of murals, art and graffiti may seem like a jumble of colourful images and writing but it’s clear that this is a place where some artists are vying for space to express themselves while others are just there to destroy.
Credit: Melanie Rosettenstein. Caption: A portrait by the late graffiti artist, Pastelheart.
From the Writer’s Bench we made our way slowly past many faded and not so faded pieces until finding ourselves at the iconic Winston Pub, one of Durban’s most famous live music venues. The Winston features a series of murals by artists such as Scab and Forgiven. One piece is dedicated to Pastelheart while another, a rhino, is a clear nod to the plight of these endangered animals.
Continuing our amble we arrived at the Green Camp Gallery with its magnificent blue mural which stopped us dead in our tracks. A symbolic tribute to nature, this collaborative mural done by established and emerging artists including Giffy, Mook Lion and Dre stands out like a desert oasis, providing a much-needed drink of cool natural beauty in this more rustic side of town. It really is the best-looking thing on that street. The Green Camp Gallery is an urban farm, art gallery and museum working for sustainable development, providing a safe, environmentally conscious and healthy space for everyone regardless of circumstances.
Credit: Dane Forman. Caption: EWOK explains the magnificent mural outside the progressive Green Camp Gallery which calls for sustainable development.
Walking back towards the KZNSA gallery, we passed another collaborative mural or ‘production’ which clearly highlights the scourge of single use plastics. The image depicts fish paddling through red water filled with plastic containers, spoons, boxes and other plastic debris seemingly gasping for air. This piece felt like a stark reminder from the artist: time to ditch those single use plastics.
Credit: Melanie Rosettenstein. Caption: Collaborative mural done by SCAB and MOOK LION highlighting the damaging effects of single use plastics.
From the vandals who deface our city walls under cover of night to the commissioned joint pieces done in broad daylight, street art has great power to tap into the psyche of a sub-culture. Sometimes there’s an important message to be heard and sometimes they just brighten up a dilapidated space in the neighbourhood. Jonas says, “We believe that all art is important. With concrete walls as the base, graffiti and street art are a commentary against a society that allows public billboards to go up but condemns those who would put art in the same spaces. It’s bold, often rebellious and undertaken in difficult conditions. All these elements make it even more powerful in the public eye.”
For more information on Glenwood’s street art walk please visit www.glenwoodcollective.com. For more information on BESETdurban please visit www.besetdurban.com