Arts, Culture & Heritage

Newtown Heads

Last Updated: July 30, 2023
Artist

Americo Guambe, Simon Guambe, Petrus Matsolo, Dan Guambe and Joe Matola.

A Brief History

The Newtown heads were the first major art commission in an open public space in the inner city as part of the regeneration of Newtown as a cultural precinct, and played a significant role in establishing the profile of the area as a cultural destination.

The project was commissioned by the design and architectural firm Urban Solutions in 2001, and financed by the Johannesburg Development Agency.

A second phase of the programme involved producing a series of concrete bollards and four concrete sculptures in the Quinn Street precinct in 2003, commissioned from the company FORM.

Due to the significant Muslim population in this part of Newtown/Fordsburg, the brief for this component required that the bollards and sculptures not represent the human form in the context of the Islamic prohibition on figurative representation.

 

 

Description

The heads, carved from disused railway sleepers, are drawn from different countries and artistic traditions from across the African continent. Mounted on concrete bollards, the heads have become one of Newtown’s most iconic features; each and every hand-carved sculpture having unique characteristics, with the complete ‘picture’ representing a sea of faces from across the African continent.

Originally 560 were installed, with more heads restored and added in subsequent years. The carved wooden heads reflect the diversity of artistic traditions from across the African continent.

 

Artwork Signage

The Newtown heads were the first major art commission in an open public space in the inner city as part of the regeneration of Newtown as a cultural precinct, and played a significant role in establishing the profile of the area as a cultural destination.

The project was commissioned by the design and architectural firm Urban Solutions in 2001, and financed by the Johannesburg Development Agency.

A second phase of the programme involved producing a series of concrete bollards and four concrete sculptures in the Quinn Street precinct in 2003, commissioned from the company FORM.

Due to the significant Muslim population in this part of Newtown/Fordsburg, the brief for this component required that the bollards and sculptures not represent the human form in the context of the Islamic prohibition on figurative representation.

 

 

Location & Address

Newtown Cultural Precinct, from Quinn to Sauer Street, Newtown. The Newtown Cultural Precinct — mounted on concrete bollards in and around Mary Fitzgerald Square, plus pavements and roadsides in the surrounding streets.