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The sculpted city: Johannesburg’s iconic public sculptures

Johannesburg is a notoriously bustling city, animated by its people and its culture. From graffiti and public murals, to heritage buildings and public art installations, the city is a visual feast for tourists and locals alike. In this article, we’re taking a look at some of the iconic public sculptures, old and new, that take up residence in and around Johannesburg.

Eland sculpture Joburg
Eland by Clive van den Berg

If you’ve ever entered Braamfontein via Jan Smuts, you’ll have seen artist Clive van den Berg’s Eland. Situated on the corner of Jan Smuts and Ameshoff Street, the substantial sculpture has been standing at the boundary between the suburbs and the city for more than a decade now. The sculpture also contains aloe planters designed to self-water by gathering rain. Van den Berg has said that the sculpture is designed to bring back memories of the land long before the city was formed, and animals such as the eland were roaming freely.

Where: Braamfontein, corner Jan Smuts and Ameshoff Street.

sculpture Joburg
Angel of the North by Winston Luthuli

Standing guard at the gateway between Constitution Hill and Hillbrow, arms outstretched, is Winston Luthuli’s Angel of the North. A series of bollards accompany the sculpture, each one bearing the words ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ translated into a variety of languages in an attempt to speak to the multi-cultural make-up of the area.

Where: Gateway between Constitution Hill and Hillbrow, corner Kotze & Queens Street.

sculpture Joburg
The Narrowing / Die Noute by Hannelie Coetzee

A recent addition to Johannesburg’s public sculptures is public artist Hannelie Coetzee’s Die Noute / The Narrowing. Installed outside of the Sandton Gate precinct as part of a series of public art installations by the artist, the work makes use of white granite from the Kalahari in order to pose a series of questions about nature, climate change, mobility in the city and more. Find out more about Coetzee and the artwork by reading our profile on the artist here.

Where: Sandton Gate Precinct, 7 Minerva Ave, Glenadrienne, Sandton.

Fire Walker sculpture Joburg
Fire Walker by William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx

In 2009, artists William Kentridge and Gerhard Marx were commissioned to produce a public sculpture for the City of Johannesburg to be installed in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup. The sculpture is based on a drawing by Kentridge of a woman street vendor – known informally as a fire walker – carrying a burning brazier on her head. The eleven-metre-high sculpture is located at the foot of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge on a site formerly used by informal traders and taxi washers, and which sees a great deal of foot and vehicle traffic. More than a decade later, the sculpture remains, weathered by the elements and the activity of the city.

Where: Queen Elizabeth Bridge, corner Simmonds and Bicard Street.

sculpture Joburg
Paper Pigeon by Maja and Gerhard Marx

Speaking of Gerhard Marx, he and his partner Maja Marx are responsible for another one of the city’s iconic public artworks – Paper Pigeon. Located in Pigeon Square in Johannesburg’s Ferreirasdorp, the work comprises three large origami-like pigeons, each of them standing at a height of three meters and, more often than not, covered in pigeons. Paper Pigeon is both a tribute to the role of the Chinese population in Johannesburg, and a playful nod to the winged city-dweller we know all too well – the urban pigeon.

Where: Intersection of Main Road and Main Reef Road, Ferreirasdorp.

sculpture Joburg
Cone Virus by Gordon Froud

The Johannesburg-based artist and educator Gordon Froud is well-known for his geometric and pattern-centric artworks, many of them installed in and around the city. In particular, it’s his Cone Virus sculptures, made from large-scale traffic cones, that have spread throughout Johannesburg. One of them occupies a small patch of land in The Wilds, one of Johannesburg’s many green lungs – the bright orange sculpture standing out in stark contrast to the surrounding browns and greens – and another can be found in the hustle and bustle of Arts on Main in Maboneng. Given the advent of the global Covid-19 pandemic, and how it’s forced us to rethink our engagements with public space, the sculptures perhaps take on an even greater significance.

Where: Johannesburg’s streets, rooftops, and parks.

sculpture Joburg
The Shadow Boxer by Marco Cianfelli

Unveiled in 2013, Marco Cianfelli’s The Shadow Boxer is significantly situated between Chancellor House and the Johannesburg Magistrate’s court where Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo opened the first black law firm in South Africa. The sculpture is based off of a photograph of a young, sparring Mandela, taken by the photographer Bob Gosani.

Where: Chancellor House, corner Fox and Gerard Sekoto Streets, Ferreirasdorp.

sculpture Joburg
Kippie’s statue by Guy Du Toit and Egon Tania

Located outside the original Kippies Jazz club in Newtown – an iconic institution in Johannesburg’s musical and political history – and designed by Guy Du Toit and Egon Tania, the Kippies statue features a bronze statue of Kippie Morolong Moeketsi seated on a chair with his saxophone. A second empty chair accompanies him, inviting members of the public to take a seat and soak up the city’s history.

Where: Market Theatre Precinct, just outside the entrance to the Market Theatre, Newtown.

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