News - Newtown Now Festival

Photo: Americo Guambe
On Sat July 14, 2018, the first Newtown Now festival presents a packed programme of FREE walking tours, exhibitions, performances, new public art activations, markets, fun family events and creative workshops to celebrate the restoration of Newtown's iconic Newtown Heads. 

Events will be taking place across the precinct from Turbine Hall (where the annual RMB Turbine Art Fair is taking place), to the Newtown Park and its various museums including SAB World of Beer Sci-Bono Discovery Centre and Worker's Museum, the Work Shop New Town and Newtown Junction shopping precinct, 56pim, The Market Theatre, Market Photo Workshop, Stop Sign Art Gallery and the famous Mary Fitzgerald Square and Museum Africa.

At the heart of the day will be the launch of the Newtown Heads refurbishment project. Initially installed in 2001, a collection of hundreds of carved wooden heads sitting atop bollards across the precinct have for many years been a defining feature of Newtown. In 2018 the artist who created the original Newtown Heads, Americo Guambe, was invited by the city to restore and replace the wooden sculptures and Saturday July 14th will be the unveiling of these newly revamped iconic public artworks.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> FREE WALKING TOURS <<<<<<<<<<<<<<< 

To book for a free walking tour email with the name of the tour in the subject line, time and number of people who will be joining (max. 6 people per booking).

10:00 - 11:00 SAB World of Beer tour
11:30 - 12:30 Workers Museum tour
11:00 - 13:00 Newtown Skateboarding Tour
12:00 - 13:00 Market Theatre tour
13:00 - 14:30 Official launch of the restored Newtown Heads
14:30 - 15:15 PAST Experiences heritage and graffiti tour
14:00 - 16:00 Newtown Skateboarding Tour
14:30 - 15:30 Workers Museum tour
15:00 - 16:00 Market Theatre tour
15:00 - 16:00 SAB World of Beer tour
15:15 - 16:00 PAST Experiences heritage and graffiti tour

** Past Experiences. Joburg's original walking tour company lead two free walking tours through Newtown's history, heritage, public art and street art. Tours at 14:30 and 15:15.

** The Market Theatre. Go behind-the-scenes at one of South Africa's most important cultural institutions on a free walking tour of the historic Market Theatre. Tours at 12:00 and 15:00.

** SAB World of Beer. As part of the Newtown Now festival, the SAB World of Beer is offering free, interactive tours of its famous museum. Free tours at 10:00 and 15:00.

** Workers Museum. Learn about the struggles and hardships faced by Joburg's migrant workers during the city's 130 year history on a tour of this important Newtown heritage site. Tours at 11:30 and 14:30. 

** Newtown Skateboarding Tour. Join skateboarding fanatic and founder of City Skate Tours Ayanda Mnyandu for a tour of Newtown's colourful history by skateboard. The tour begins with a short lesson on how to skateboard for beginners (limited to 10 participants). Tours at 11:00 and 14:00.

>>>>>>>>>>>>> FREE EVENTS FOR FAMILIES <<<<<<<<<<<<<

** Afrobeat star Femi Koya leads an energetic and interactive live performance in collaboration with Play Africa and Johannesburg Family Gatherings.

** Johannesburg Family Gathering. Join a free Kemet Yoga class at 10:00 (bring your own mat) and an interactive Yoruba percussion and dance session with Ola Opa at 11:30 at Museum Africa. 

** Play Africa. As part of the festival South African non-profit company and social enterprise Play Africa are hosting free interactive and educational creative play areas in the Newtown Park (opposite Sci-Bono Discovery Centre) aimed at young children.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> ART EXHIBITIONS <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

** Market Photo Workshop: Other Worlds a photo essay by award winning Malian photographer Moussa John Kalapo.

** Stop Sign Art Gallery: In Thokoza, Place of Peace group photography exhibition by Of Soul and Joy photography collective.

** Sci-Bono Discovery Centre: Wonders of Rock Art, a blockbuster international exhibition of ancient French and African rock art. 

** City Lodge Hotels Limited Newtown: An exhibition of works by fine arts graduates sponsored by Strauss & Co - Fine Art Auctioneers and Consultants.

** 56pim: Social practice - methodologies and ideologies, an ongoing interrogation into how artist, architects, museologists and others in the creative fields address issues of inequality and social cohesion in their everyday practice. 


Profile of Americo Guambe by Tanya Zack

Mozambican-born Americo Guambe was thirteen when he met the old craftsman Armando Maxava who would teach him to transform wood into animals, people and furniture. Every day after school Americo would go to Armando’s yard. There he would make folding three legged tables, masks and animals. It was 1983 and Mocambique was in the grips of a civil war that had already raged for six years and that would stretch until 1992.  The war had cost his family everything they had.  

It was 1975 when the Guambe family were removed from Maputo because as members of a community of Jehovah’s witnesses, who reject all forms of combat, and therefore refused to participate in the war on either side, they were shunned. The family home was taken. And they were moved to Zambezi province. But in the heat of the war in 1984 they lost what they had built up there too. ‘It was terrible. We had had a farm there. We used to plough. But Renamo considered us collaborators with Frelimo and they destroyed all we had and scattered the villages of Jehovah’s witnesses. Schools were destroyed and people we killed. We lost our fields, our chickens, our pigs. 

In 1987 the family moved to a refugee camp in Malawi. They built a shack and started over. But Americo needed to help the family who now had 10 children. He wasn't selling enough in Blantyre. He moved to Maputo to sell his wares and to send money ‘home’. Moving was not straightforward. The roads were littered with landmines and so travelling by car was out of the question. Americo waited three months for a place on a plane to take him to Maputo.

In Maputo he met up with Armando again – Armando had also moved to the city. ‘I was 19. I stated working with Armando again. I worked during the day and at night I went to school’. 

His family returned to Maputo. But they had lost everything. ‘We had lost in Maputo, and in Zambesi and in Malawi’, he says.  It was a stress that Americo believes claimed the lives of his parents and his brother.

Americo has always loved art. For as long as he can remember he admired people working in wood. ‘Once you learn the skills you can apply your own ideas’ says Americo. Which is exactly what he has done over almost thirty years. He carved animals and tables and sold at the Salisbury market in Maputo and in galleries and tourist spots around the city. But the economy was flailing and there wasn't enough tourist trade to take his work to the next level.

In 1993 Americo moved to Johannesburg. He was 24. His family needed income and he hoped he could earn a living in South Africa.  Here he saw fallen trees in Zuurbekom and he set about transforming the logs into artworks. It was tough. For five years Americo walked from shop to shop and from market stall to market stall to sell his works.

Then he met architect Philip Fernando, who has a workshop in Newtown. Philip ordered pieces from Americo – chairs made from railway sleepers. But also ‘sculptures of people, snakes and animals’ says Americo. In 2000 the pair did work for a gallery at the airport.

Soon after, Philip returned to his home country of Spain. Americo took over the Newtown studio. In 2001 Americo decided to open his studio as a teaching space. He worked three artists, including his brother. The studio operated with 4 artists and 6 trainees. In the same year they were awarded an order for 380 wooden sculpted heads to animate Newtown and the fashion district. The heads were placed on plinths around Mary Fitzgerald Square and at various intersections and nodes in the precinct. Americo raised funding from government for equipment and tools. 

But what would the heads represent? Americo says, ‘I wanted to show the different people of Johannesburg. It is a city of so many cultures. That's what I wanted to highlight. And so the heads do that – people of all races, genders, ages and cultures adorn the plinths around the city. And they are joined by sculptures of shoes, or combs – the material objects that are made and used and sold in the space. 

‘My sculptures changed Newtown spaces’ Americo says. ‘And my other sculptures have impacted on other parts of the city’. He estimates that over 600 of his works have become public art in the inner city. They are found in Newtown, the Fashion District, Pieter Roos Park, Hillbrow, Doornfontein and more. In Peter Roos park Americo transformed tree stumps into whimsical creatures and into park furniture.  He also made a sculpture of a Rea Vaya station for the launch of the City’s BRT.

Americo sculpted the famous figures opposite the Constitutional Court. The statue, a young boy pointing towards the court offers two messages. It indicates the direction to the highest court in the land and as the pillar of the statue is engraved with the names of countries on the African continent it reminds the court to uphold the rights of migrants to this city. And next to this young boy is a sculpture of a young girl, looking out over Hillbrow. Americo knows the advantages and the stresses of being a migrant in Johannesburg. Both he and his wife have South African IDs. But their children, one of whom came here at the age of 2 and the other who was born here, are not recognised as South African. 

The heads of Newtown are now weather beaten and some are broken or lost. Americo is working on a project to restore many of the heads and to place these in new configurations that align with interesting paths and spaces in Newtown.