A Woodstock revival in Cape Town
The Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock is now home to the hip Neighbourgoods Market. (Maridel Reyes)
It is a gentrification tale as old as time: young artists move to a rough and tumble part of town to open studios and galleries. Hip restaurants, shops and farmer’s markets soon spring up. Finally, the rest of the city follows, and the neighbourhood’s transformation is complete. Take that scene and superimpose it on post-apartheid South Africa -- a country where the divide between rich and poor blurs in the minutes between massive townships and wealthy Cape Town suburbs -- and it makes sense that Woodstock, a gritty, formerly lower-middle class neighbourhood of crumbling Victorian cottages, is emerging as the city’s new creative district.
Woodstock’s revival began when two friends who owned an art gallery in east Cape Town called Whatiftheworld — Cameron Munro from Zimbabwe and Justin Rhodes from New York — started a small outdoor food market on Saturday mornings on the grounds of the Old Biscuit Mill, a derelict biscuit factory in the neighbourhood. At first, they asked friends to sell organic produce and baked goods. Then in 2006, they purchased the crumbling biscuit factory building and transformed the space into the Neighbourgoods Market, a 1,500sqm complex of art shops, hip restaurants, designer stores and day and night markets. Munro and Rhodes relocated Whatiftheworld to a former tannery in Woodstock a few months later and opened a farm-to-plate cafe called Superette nearby that also sells specialty items from the market.
In 2007, Goodman Gallery and Stevenson, two of Cape Town’s most established galleries, moved to Woodstock, enticed by its edgy charm, massive industrial spaces and inexpensive rent. Today, six major galleries are within walking distance of each other, and scattered among them are design studios, advertising agencies, production studios and interior design firms.
Here is a cheat sheet to the hottest ‘hood in Cape Town — and the best places to spy and buy art.
Old Biscuit Mill
The Neighbourgoods Market that started it all is still packed every Saturday. By mid-morning the covered market on the grounds of the Old Biscuit Mill is swarming with people flocking to more than 120 vendors for local and organic produce, artisanal cheese and bread, craft beers and gourmet foods, including more than 20 different kinds of pesto. After your grocery shopping is finished, sit down at one of the long communal tables and relax with a snack or a glass of wine or beer. Whatiftheworld regularly puts on live festivals or productions at the Old Biscuit Mill.
Once you nosh your way through the market, head to the shops located within the restored factory building next door. Crafts from South Africa and Zimbabwe are curated at Heartworks; famed ceramist Clemintina van der Walt’s shop, Clemintina Ceramics, hawks both her wares and the work of other South African artists and painters; and Exposure gallery focuses on exhibiting the latest photographers.
Munro and Rhodes’ Whatiftheworld gallery showcases emerging South African artists like Athi Patra Ruga, whose photographs and performance pieces explore and subvert the human body in order to examine the boundaries between fashion, performance and contemporary art. The gallery’s cadre of artists have gone on to exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the London Art Fair, the California Institute of the Arts and more.
Goodman Gallery, which has a Johannesburg outpost, has launched the careers of the biggest names in South African art today, including Willie Bester, William Kentridge and David Goldblatt. Its focus is on artists from South Africa, and other countries whose work digs into the dialogue of the African continent. Until 15 September, the gallery is showcasing the works of Hasan and Husain Essop, fraternal twin brothers born and raised in Cape Town whose photographs probe the tension between the self and others. They digitally clone themselves to create a picture where two or more sets of twins dressed in designer clothes, traditional Muslims garb or military uniforms act out contradictory and stereotypical behaviours.
The Stevenson gallery, which also has a branch in Johannesburg, exhibits an international collection of contemporary paintings, sculptures, ceramics and mixed media that reflects the current creative scene n South Africa as well as Africa and its diaspora. Its directors aim to give South African artists access to the rest of the world. Stevenson participates in major art fairs like Art Basel, abc in Berlin and Paris Photo. This year, the gallery debuted at Frieze New York, Art Hong Kong and Frieze London. Until 1 September, Stevenson is showing a solo exhibition by South African photographer Zanele Muhol called Mo(u)rning, sparked by a recent burglary of her apartment. She lost an archive of photographic work, videos and texts documenting hate crimes in South Africa and gender issues in Africa. The current exhibition includes the pieces that remained, plus new work.