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MyCiti Bus Station public art | © Warren Rohner / Flickr
MyCiti Bus Station public art | © Warren Rohner / Flickr
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The Best Public Art In Cape Town

Picture of Andrew Thompson
Updated: 14 June 2017
Public art in Cape Town has been a fairly contentious issue for some time now. Though some installations have been ill-considered, insensitive and problematic, others serve a greater purpose of provoking thought and lighting up public spaces. Here are some pieces worth seeking out in and around the city.
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Ghost Sharks by Ralph Borland

Cape Town’s Foreshore may not be the most picturesque. In spite, or perhaps because, of this it’s home to some of the city’s most intriguing public art. Ralph Borland’s Ghost Sharks sculpture sits in the middle of the public space on Jetty Square. The group of five ghost sharks float three metres above the ground, and though initially designed to follow passing pedestrians with built-in sensors, they now just seem to pivot ominously with the changing winds. The installation is particularly appropriate given that the sculptures are situated on reclaimed land, represented by a motif of bricks that reference ocean waters that once swirled below.

Jetty Square, Foreshore, Cape Town

Swimming ghost sharks at Jetty Square | © Andrew Thompson

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Soap Boxes by Rosenclaire

The grounds outside the South African National Gallery are no stranger to unusual and thought-provoking public art, and Rosenclaire’s Soap Boxes is no exception. The two bronze boxes sit inconspicuously adjacent to the gallery steps, and turn the typical public art approach on its head by offering a public platforms for debates, performances, and silent protests.

South African National Gallery, Company’s Garden, Cape Town

Soap Boxes outside South African National Gallery | © Andrew Thompson

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Human Sculptures by Egon Tania

Renowned South African artist Egon Tania has contributed to the transformation of the city’s Foreshore region with a selection of lifelike statues. They depict people going about their daily business — reading newspapers, talking on cellphones, and children playing. The sculptures blend into the surrounding bustle of the square and are easy to overlook or assume to be real, and they add personal charm to the otherwise unremarkable public space.

Pier Place, Heerengracht Street, Cape Town, South Africa

Human figures on the Foreshore | © Andrew Thompson

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Rhinosaur by Andre Carl van der Merwe

The Sea Point Promenade has become home to some of the city’s most controversial pieces of public art, including the widely criticised Ray-Bans sculpture. Less controversial and more sincere is the interactive Rhinosaur installation by artist Andre Carl van der Merwe. Peer through the cross-hairs and the perviously disjointed display falls into place as an endangered rhino looking down the barrel of a poacher’s gun.

Sea Point Promenade, Cape Town, South Africa

#rhinosaur #rhinosaurus #capetown

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Berlin Wall

At the top of the often frenetic St. George’s Mall is a humble piece of the Berlin Wall that many hurried visitors fail to even notice. The German government gifted the slab of concrete lifted from the wall to former president Nelson Mandela following a visit to Germany in 1996. Though an unconventional piece of public art, its location and placement has been carefully considered. Set outside the Mandela Rhodes Building, and positioned to point down St. George’s Mall, it’s almost deliberately easy to miss, but its influence on passersby who stumble across it appears to be more profound as a result.

St. George’s Mall, Cape Town, South Africa

Berlin Wall on St. George’s Mall | © Andrew Thompson

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Apartheid Race Benches

Visitors strolling down the quiet Queen Victoria Street between Cape Town’s High Court and the Company’s Garden are often startled to see two benches labelled for “Whites Only” and “Non-Whites Only”. Many mistake these for actual benches used during apartheid, but in fact they form part of a public art installation by Roderick Sauls. Located outside the building where the Race Classification Appeal Board once sat, they serve as a jarring reminder of the country’s political past.

Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town, South Africa

Apartheid Race Benches outside High Court Annex | © Andrew Thompson

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Rock Girl Benches

Rock Girl is an impressive organisation that creates both symbolic and real safe spaces across South Africa. They partner with artists who create striking benches in symbolic locations, and pair these with physical safe spaces for vulnerable girls and women. You’ll find the benches dotted throughout Cape Town, including Signal Hill, The Company’s Garden, St. George’s Mall, and the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Each bench is worth engaging with for its artistic beauty, as well as its greater role in a city where violence against women and girls is all too prevalent.

Cape Town International Convention Centre, Cape Town, South Africa

Just a fabulous bench #rockgirlsa.org

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MyCiti Bus Station Art by various artists

Cape Town’s mass bus-based public transport system, MyCiti, is a triumph for public art in the city. Local artists have transformed most of the city’s major stations into vibrant works of art. Though easy to miss if you’re commuting to and from work, as a visitor it pays to slow your day down and take in the beauty at most fixed bus stations in and around the city.

Benches at MyCiti Bus Stations
Benches at MyCiti Bus Stations | © Andrew Thompson