New Heads to Stir Up Newtown’s Cultural Precinct

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Artsvark Presser

Artsvark Presser is directly connected to the South African Arts Community, and spits out press releases and other news as passed on by community members.
Artsvark Presser

Freshly-carved heads will be welcomed on Mary Fitzgerald Square with garlands, banners and festivities as part of the Newtown Now Festival. The launch of the heads marks a milestone in a project of the City’s Community Development Department to refurbish these much-loved public artworks, many of which have been damaged or gone missing over the years.

The carved wooden heads that decorate the sidewalks in Newtown, Johannesburg will be replaced and refurbished.
The carved wooden heads that decorate the sidewalks in Newtown, Johannesburg will be replaced and refurbished.

Newtown Now is a free one-day festival with performance art, walking tours, exhibitions, creative workshops and family events. “The Festival will help rekindle Newtown’s creative spirit, and bring life to the cultural precinct”, says the MMC for Community Development, Clr. Nonhanthla Sifumba.

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At the heart of the programme on 14 July will be a launch of the Newtown Heads revitalization project, involving a 196 new and refurbished heads lining up along a central walkway starting from Mary Fitzgerald Square and extending past the Newtown Park to Helen Joseph Street.

First developed in 2001, the Newtown heads make up a public art installation of over 500 carved wooden heads made from disused railway sleepers. Mounted on plinths across the cultural precinct, the heads have become one of Newtown’s most iconic features.

Americo Guambe, one of the principal artists involved in the original development of the heads, returned to the project in 2018 to head a team creating new heads and repairing many others. Made from disused railway sleepers, each hand-carved head is unique, representing a sea of faces from across the African continent.

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

A highlight of the launch will be an interactive performance by the musician Femi Koya, who is known for advancing the legacy of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, Koya, Koya’s Afro beat concert will weave a unique performance in collaboration with Play Africa and Johannesburg family Gatherings.

The launch of the Newtown heads is open to the public, starting at 13h00 on 14 July 2018 at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown.

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