With a postcard-perfect mix of mountain, sea and vineyard surrounding it on all sides, Cape Town is justifiably famous for her natural beauty. But when it comes to world-class art and design, the Mother City also knows how to strut her stuff.
But South Africa’s second city is more than just a pretty face: while the movers and shakers of mining and finance may be based up in the province of Gauteng — where you’ll find the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria — Cape Town is very much the home of the country’s creative industries. From film studios to glossy magazines, cutting-edge galleries to high fashion, the Mother City is the hub for all things artistic.
For starters, Cape Town has cemented its place on the global design map by hosting the annual Design Indaba, where global leaders in art, fashion and design lend their voices to the three-day design-fest held early each year.
Later in the year, usually each September, Creative Week Cape Town provides a platform for local artists and designers to strut their stuff, and includes events such as the Open Book Literary Festival and the glamorous Loerie advertising awards.
Off the back of these major events, and the explosion of galleries and studios in the city, Cape Town has been designated as the World Design Capital 2014. The title is awarded every two years to a global city that uses design “for social and cultural improvement and economic development,” and a yearlong programme of art- and design-oriented events is in the pipeline.
While these major events distill the best of Cape creativity, it isn’t hard for travelers visiting at any time of year to tap into the artistic pulse of the city.
If you’re staying in the city’s southern suburbs it’s well worth a stop at the non-profit Montebello Design Centre in Newlands, where you’ll find both well-known artists and community craft projects, otherwise, start your wanderings in the up-and-coming district of the city center known simply as The Fringe.
The blocks on the eastern edge of the central business district have seen a renaissance in recent years: today you’ll find the Cape Craft & Design Institute here, along with work from local designers Pedersen + Lennard on display at their innovative gallery The Field Office. A few steps away, The Fugard Theatre has breathed new life into the city’s drama scene and the stylish 335-seat theater regularly hosts international talent.
A five-minute drive from The Fringe will bring you to the charmingly gritty suburb of Woodstock; an area firmly on the up-and-up, and establishing itself as a hub for the city’s trendiest galleries and studios.
The Old Biscuit Mill complex on Albert Road is a good place to park your car and begin exploring. The precinct — which was, quite literally, once a biscuit factory — is home to some of the best restaurants in Cape Town, but also offers cutting-edge boutiques well worth a browse.
Michelle Petrie-Burton’s Abode showcases quirky yet beautiful home wares, while both Clementina Ceramics and Imiso Ceramic Studio offer unique creations. The Exposure Gallery and Mu & Me are also favourites, with quirky crafts and interior décor.
On Saturday mornings artisanal food producers set up shop at the Neighbourgoods Market — Cape Town’s answer to San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza — attracting hipsters and locavores from across the city.
Over the road from the Biscuit Mill, designer Katie Thompson is rapidly making a name for herself with Recreate. The shop’s name says it all too, as Thompson focuses on “upcycled” materials in her designs: the most famous of which is a battered suitcase given a nip/tuck to be transformed into a stylish lounge chair. At VAMP next door you’ll find a gorgeous selection of upcycled retro furniture and quirky kitchen paraphernalia.
Further up Albert Road, walking back towards the city center, the WhatIfTheWorld Gallery showcases local emerging artists and has fast become a focal point for contemporary African art.
Likewise, the Stevenson Gallery shows artists from across the continent, with a varied programme of exhibitions throughout the year. Not far off, the Goodman Gallery is perhaps the leading contemporary art gallery in the city. The Goodman focuses on artists — not necessarily African — that engage in a dialogue with Africa, and has extensive gallery space in both Cape Town and Johannesburg.
While there’s certainly no shortage of art on the walls, many of the studios in Woodstock are focused firmly on functional art that penetrates our everyday lives. One of the finest examples of this is to be found at the Woodstock Foundry on Albert Road, where Bronze Age facilitates work for local artists as well as producing custom-made Design Art pieces that can be viewed in their gallery.
Casamento, in the same complex, is a marvellous collection of bespoke upholstered furniture from designer Starry Eve Collett, while Vogel pushes plenty of boundaries with their fine-crafted furniture inspired by natural forms.
The new kid on the Woodstock block is the Woodstock Exchange that, like The Old Biscuit Mill, has transformed a run-down industrial space into a thriving hub for artists, designers and trendy boutiques.
With tables overlooking bustling Albert Road ground-floor Superette is a great place to grab a bite if you fancy a break, as is the second outpost of The Field Office upstairs, which has good coffee and free Wi-Fi.
For art here, try Culture Urban + Contemporary Gallery which exhibits a range of international artists — including the likes of Tracey Emin and Dan Baldwin — alongside selected local creatives. Wolf & Maiden Creative Studio dishes up quirky home design and accessories, while on the ground floor Kingdom is a treasure trove of magpie-collectables interspersed with contemporary design.
If by now your feet are feeling weary, make Grandt Mason Originals your last stop: this unique boutique hopes to re-establish the role of the skilled shoemaker, and offers outstanding bespoke footwear made from upcycled fabrics.
You could easily — and happily — spend your entire stay in Cape Town browsing the fruits of the Cape’s creative labours. There’s still the National Gallery and Irma Stern Museum to consider, the iconic Pierneef and Rupert art galleries in the winelands to visit, and the stylish boutiques of De Waterkant to browse through.
For more information on creative events in Cape Town, be sure to check out these articles:
August Is Architecture Month For World Design Capital 2014 In Cape Town
Cape Town Offering Two Showcases For Visitors During WDC2014
“Live Design, Transform Life”: Cape Town Designated World Design Capital 2014