Seeing the Art of Cape Town

On our first full day in Cape Town, Lisa and I took the sage advice of a South African art collector and hired Stephen Long as our guide for the day. Stephen is well known in the Cape Town arts community (and to the shaman of the Eastern Cape) as one of the most renowned bead dealers in the region. Many of the beads you find in the beadwork of South African art is actually imported from Venice, the Czech Republic, and now China. Our first stop was the South African National Gallery, where we viewed activist art created during the oppressive apartheid regime. One of the most disturbing pieces is the three life-sized figures with horns and no mouths called The Butcher Boys, created in plaster by Jane Alexander.

Then it was time see some of the impressive local crafts found in the city. The Gallery Shop, on bustling Church Street (48), is a gem of a small store selling colorfully beaded jewelry, sculpture, wall hangings, pillowcases, and more. Owner Lorin Strieman used to run the gift shop at the Natioanl Gallery and she has a great eye for contemporary South African craft. It’s hard not to purchase all the whimsical beaded animals at Monkeybiz. The pieces were created by impoverished, HIV-positive women who were trained as artists to make a living. It was wonderful to walk upstairs and see all these women sitting together and laughing while creating art. Just as alluring is the work at Streetwires, where sculpture of all sizes is created by wire and bead. Like Monkeybiz, you can walk upstairs to see the large group of artists at work. Bags in hand from all the goods we purchased, we visited the colorful houses and mosques found in the nearby Bo-Kaap neighborhood still home to a large Cape Malay population. All of our purchases are now back at our house, cherished from our memorable day with Stephen. We’re happy to pass along his contact information to anyone who’s interested in hiring him for the day.