Currently no alerts. Keep safe.

Cape Town's powerful public art

Public art has the ability to energise and transform the urban landscape. Certainly, the extraordinary variety on offer in the Cape Town city centre does much to enhance our cityscape, increase the flâneur’s experience and enjoyment of indoor and outdoor public spaces, and contribute to our collective identity as Capetonians and South Africans. In our latest issue of City Views, we tasked art-tour curator Kate Crane Briggs of Culture Connect to walk us through some of the City Centre’s most notable, striking and interesting public art installations.

AFRICA by Brett Murray
Brett Murray’s controversial sculpture “Africa”, created in 2000 as an imitation of a traditional African sculpture but adorned with Bart Simpson’s yellow head, is intended to “challenge and celebrate converging cultural paradigms”, he says. Today it forms part of the fabric of St Georges Mall, where it is admired or ignored.
Kate says: Created by a sculptor of international stature, it has a serious message but can still be enjoyed by everyone, including children.

OPEN HOUSE by Jacques Coetzer
A bright red beacon on the corner of Long and Dorp streets, the outdoor structure that is Open House is also a beacon of hope. Designed by contemporary artist Jacques Coetzer to celebrate our democracy, the structure won the Western Cape Government’s Public Art Competition in 2016. Essentially a platform for creative expression, it embodies shelter and encourages public interaction.
Kate says: Bold and symbolic, Open House also has the element of surprise which is refreshing in a public artwork.

The referenced media source is missing and needs to be re-embedded.

BAOBABS, STORMCLOUDS, ANIMALS AND PEOPLEE by Brett Murray and Tuoi Stefaans Samcuia
These three enormous cut-out panels in the main foyer of CTICC 1 are a collaboration between the late San artist Tuoi Stefaans Samcuia and Brett Murray. Beautifully rendered, they evoke Samcuia’s childhood memories of hunting, and the spirit of Africa and the Cape.
Kate says: Murray worked with Samcuia in 2003 when he was a member of the !Xun and Khwe San Art and Cultural Project. Rock art is known internationally yet there is very little on offer in Cape Town, which is why these are special.

ABSTRACT by Esther Mahlangu
Celebrated Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu’s 2014 painting in Gorgeous George’s foyer attests to the hotel’s owner, Tobias Alter, wanting to give local and international guests an authentic experience and celebrate South African art. Mahlangu, who has attained international stature, uses striking traditional Ndebele patterns to create her distinctive, renowned artworks.
Kate says: Her designs are iconic, colourful and meaningful. To encounter her art in an intimate hotel foyer is an unexpected, special find.

SUGAR BIRD by Jack Mantis
Created in 2013 by street artist Jack Mantis, the giant Sugar Bird mural aptly adorns an exterior wall of Wild Olive African Artisan Apothecary in Pepper Street. Co-owner Marioara de la Tara commissioned the mural as she has a strong affinity with birds as a perfume manufacturer.
Kate says: This mural is in keeping with the ethos of Wild Olive and introduces the stunning beauty of nature to a barren part of town.

OLDUVAI by Gavin Younge
Inspired by a steep ravine – Olduvai Gorge in East Africa’s Rift Valley – and the Great Lakes, this looming, leaning nine-metre steel sculpture by internationally renowned Cape Town sculptor Gavin Younge represents the gateway to Africa. Created in 2008, it symbolises the evolution of mankind, and attests to human endeavour, travel and global commerce.
Kate says: Bold and bright, Olduvai is eye-catching and iconic. It is beyond Cape Town, and I particularly like its references to the heart (which is Lake Victoria), and to humankind.

NUMINOUS BEAST by Bruce Arnott
Created in 1979, this iconic bronze sculpture in the forecourt of the Iziko South African National Gallery by the late traditional modernist sculptor Bruce Arnott is rich in metaphor and mystery. Arnott, an influential artist, curator and academic, created this human-animal hybrid as a melancholic memorial to the passing of the San through the Drakensberg.
Kate says: Its representation of oxen in a place where there were once animals is poignant. I also love its mysterious title and the balance created between the abstract and the animal form.

The realistic bronzes that add life to Pier Place were produced in 2003 by Dutch-born, Cape Town-based artist Egon Tania. Conceived to celebrate “normal Capetonians doing normal things”, landscape artist Adam van Nieuwenhuizen says they are “sculptures that people can engage with” as they spend time or pass through the square.
Kate says: These bronzes are technically brilliant and so life-like, which is what you need when trying to encourage people to use the square. I particularly like the older woman with her shopping bag.

BLACK MADONNA by Leon Underwood
This astonishing sacred sculpture, produced in 1935 by noted British sculptor Leon Underwood, who taught the great Henry Moore, found a permanent home at St George’s Cathedral in 1986 after the Highveld climate caused it to start cracking. At the time, its depiction of the Virgin Mary as a black woman was criticised by conservative Christians. Today is it admired for its fine execution as a piece of modernist sculpture.
Kate says: It is an unusual artwork, and I admire its 1930s retro style. Its significance lies in its African portrayal.

ONZE JAN by Anton van Wouw
This bronze statue of Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr on Church Square attests to Van Wouw’s mastery of “the complex and challenging art of sculpting the human form”, says Emma Bedford of Aspire Art Auctions. One of SA’s most outstanding sculptors, Van Wouw’s great attention to detail, as seen in this 1920 work, results in many of his sculptures fetching prices in the millions.
Kate says: As an artwork, it is first-class and to be able to enjoy the work of a pre-eminent sculptor is first prize.


1. The Purple Shall Govern by Conrad Botes (2008), Burg St

2. Animal head carvings (1940s), WC Government building, Wale St

3. Wrestling Podium by Johann van der Schijff (2007), Church St

4. The Knot by Edoardo Villa (1981), CT Civic Centre

5. Into Tomorrow by Paul du Toit (2015), Riebeeck Square