PICS: Jozi's Newtown celebrate the return of The Heads with free festival

2018-07-09 16:30 - Saara Mowlana
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newtown heads explore newtown

Get your head in the festival game Now in Newtown. (Photo: Supplied)

Newtown's iconic public artworks head out a new launch on 14 July this weekend. 

Viewers can expect to see the newly restored Newtown Heads and a colourful new art installation by the Imbali Visual Literacy Project, which will be revealed to the public at 13:00.

The festive launch on Mary Fitzgerald Square will also form part of the inaugural Newtown Now festival!

The Heads consist of 560 carved woodens heads sitting upon plinths across the Newtown Precinct. The Imbali Visual Literacy Project was born as a project of Women For Peace in 1988 to develop strategies for training teachers with no art background in poorly resourced schools to enable them to provide an enriching art and creative education for school pupils

They have grown to be one of the location's most iconic features and sights over the last 17 years.

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In fact, just this year the City of Johannesburg's Community Development Department of Arts, Culture and Heritage Directorate announced that it would be restoring and repairing these beloved public artworks - many of which have weathered and become damaged or destroyed over the years.

The Mozambican sculptor who led the original team of artists who first created the Heads in 2001, Americo Guambe, is spearheading their refurbishment. The sculptures, constructed from the remnants of old railway sleepers, are each hand-carved to unique perfection, representing a sea of faces from across the African continent.

newtown heads explore newtown

Newtown Heads restoration. (Photo: Supplied)

Guambe says that showcasing African diversity in this work was important to him.

"I wanted to show the people of Johannesburg that it is a city of many diverse cultures. And so the heads do that – people of all races, genders, ages and cultures adorn the plinths around Newtown and the city," Guambe elaborated.

newtown heads explore newtown

Newtown Heads restoration. (Photo: Supplied)

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The refurbishment was done in stages - the first of which has seen the restoration and replacement of 196 heads around Mary Fitzgerald Square as well as along the pedestrian walkway that merges the square to Helen Joseph Street. 

These existing heads will be accompanied by a new public art installation. The new display, led by Imbali Visual Literacy Project, includes coloured flags to be hung from lampposts on the square, as well as large screen-printed banners tattooed with images of Newtown's iconic buildings.

newtown heads explore newtown

Newtown Heads restoration. (Photo: Supplied)

newtown heads explore newtown

Newtown Heads restoration. (Photo: Supplied)

What is Newtown Now Festival?

Newtown Now is a free festival that celebrates the unique culture and heritage of Newtown. Festivities pulse off into motion in the town's heart - its public art installations.

This one day festival includes free walking tours, arts and heritage exhibitions, creative workshops, family events and a nifty flea market.

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There are venues that are participating in the festivities and will offer visitors a range of fun activities. Some of the participating venues and tour guides include:

  • Sci-Bono Discovery Centre
  • The Worker's Museum
  • The Market Theatre
  • Museum Africa
  • Market Photo Workshop
  • Stop Sign Art Gallery
  • 56 Pim Studio
  • Past Experiences
  • the Newtown Junction Precinct
mbali visual literacy project - explore newtown

Imbali Visual Literacy Project. (Photo: Supplied)

The Newtown Now festival programme:

The Newtown Now festival offers a wide range of festivities sure to keep everyone in attendance entertained. The free festival boasts a range of events from walking tours, exhibitions, live music, new public art activations, markets and creative workshops for guests to enjoy.

The schedule for the festival runs as follows:

  • 10:00 – 16:00 Art exhibitions at Stop Sign Gallery, 56 Pim Studios, Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, Market Photo Workshop
  • 10:00 – 16:00 Newtown Now arts and craft market 
  • 10:00 – 16:00 Play Africa host an interactive and educational creative play area in the Newtown Park (opposite Sci-Bono Discovery Centre) aimed at young children
  • 10:00 – 11:00 SAB World of Beer tour
  • 10:00 – 11:00 Free Kemet yoga class at Museum Africa with Johannesburg Family Gathering (bring your own mat)
  • 11:00 – 11:30 Walkabout of photography exhibition ?Thokoza, In Place of Peace? at Stop Sign Gallery with gallerist and curator Zama Phakathi
  • 11:30 – 12:30 Free interactive Yoruba percussion and dance session with Ola Opa at Museum Africa with Johannesburg Family Gathering
  • 11:30 – 12:30 Workers Museum tour
  • 11:00 – 13:00 Newtown Skateboarding tour with City Skate Tours
  • 12:00 – 13:00 Market Theatre tour
  • 13:00 – 13:50 Official launch of the restored Newtown Heads and Imbali public art installation
  • 13:50 – 14:30 Interactive performance by Afrobeat star Femi Koya
  • 14:30 – 15:15 Past Experiences heritage and graffiti tour 
  • 14:00 – 16:00 Newtown Skateboarding tour with City Skate Tours
  • 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 

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You have to book for a free walking tours in advance. To book pop an email over to with the name of the tour in the subject line, the time slot and number of people who will be joining (you're allowed a maximum of 6 people per booking). 

  • Past Experiences heritage and graffiti tour. This is Joburg's original walking tour company, Past Experiences, lead two free walking tours through Newtown's history, heritage, public art and street art. Tours take place at 14:30 and 15:15.
  • Market Theatre tour. Go behind-the-scenes at one of SA's most important cultural institutions on a free walking tour of the historic Market Theatre. Tours take place 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 world famous museum 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 guided tour of the Workers Museum, one of Joburg’s most important Newtown heritage sites. Tours take place at 11:30 and 14:30. 
  • Newtown Skateboarding Tour. Join 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). Those with their own skateboards are also welcome to join in. Tours take place at 11:00 and 14:00.  
city skate tour explore newtown

City Skate Tour. (Photo: Supplied)

city skate tour - explore newtown

City Skate Tour. (Photo: Supplied)

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  • Market Photo Workshop: Other Worlds - a photo essay by award winning Malian photographer Moussa John Kalapo. Find out more about the exhibition here.
  • Stop Sign Art Gallery: In Thokoza, Place of Peace, a group photography exhibition by Of Soul and Joy photography collective. Find out more about the exhibition here.
thembinkosi hlatshwayo silent traumas - explore ne

Thembinkosi Hlatshwayo - Silent Traumas. (Photo: Supplied)

  • Sci-Bono Discovery Centre: Wonders of Rock Art, a blockbuster international exhibition of ancient French and African rock art. Find out more about the exhibition here.
kids painting at wonders of rock art - explore new

Wonders of Rock Art. (Photo: Supplied)

  • 56 Pim Studios: Between the Thresholds, an exhibition of methodologies and processes around social practice that looks into how museums address issues of inequality and social cohesion. Find out more here