Thing of beauty: Art in the city

Transformation: Hannelie Coetzee takes back the walls of Jo’burg’s inner city with her art.

Transformation: Hannelie Coetzee takes back the walls of Jo’burg’s inner city with her art.

The artist moved into the Maboneng precinct in downtown Johannesburg two years ago and uses the city’s walls as her canvas.

Coetzee says her method as an artist has undergone an important shift since she moved her studio — a barter agreement with the landlords that exchanges space for artworks.

From working solo, and isolated in her studio, she has ­purposefully designed a process that takes her on to the street, where she consciously makes time to pause and chat to people who show ­curiosity about her work while it is being made.

“Working in public space allows for a transparent development of my process, both conceptually and physically … I think it’s a way to broaden interest in the arts,” Coetzee says.

She works with stone, enjoying its solidity and its prehistoric ­provenance, creating pieces that, in their detail, have a delicate, feminine quality.

“I also had to consider vandalism, so I chose a material that’s not easy to move,” she says.

A photographer by training, she takes photos, interpreting the pixels into stone as one would an embroidery pattern. One of her first city works is on the corner of Berea Road and Commissioner Street.

Two floors up is a fine mosaic titled Ouma Miemie and Tant Vya, a portrait of two women with two small children who seem to be walking away from the building. The women are part of Coetzee’s family — the photograph taken in the 1940s on this very street.

A block or two away, a large-scale mosaic eye, its lashes curling along the side of a building in Kruger Street, stands 7m high.
She photographed the eye of Anisa Mpungwe, who opened a flagship store for her fashion label Loin Cloth & Ashes in the precinct.

The work is titled The Change Agent and makes reference to the visionaries of the area. The eye symbolically looks on to Main Street, in the direction of the city’s mining and financial heart.Its materials are mining core — rock more than a million years old — extracted from the earth in Marble Hall, Witbank and Carletonville.

Hannelie Coetzee does art walk­abouts in the city. Visit

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