By Edward Tsumele, CITYLIFE/ARTS Editor
Braamfontein about six years ago was pumping, just like the rest of Johannesburg CBD. That is when the city was in a rejuvenating phase, with tourists, both local and international falling in love again with Johannesburg.
Suddenly new restaurants sprung up along Braamfontein’s streets, and so did new apartments, often old and decaying buildings being turned into mainly student accommodation. Add new hotels that also emerged in response to what was a booming phase of tourism around Johannesburg CBD, Braamfobtein included, then you had a city that inspired hope that Joburg was becoming a desirable destination once more. The Saturday Market on De Beer Street, was always teeming with tourists, both local and international, as they congregated on the market for drinks that included artisan alcohol and artisanal food, as visitors watched musical acts do their thing. Leading art galleries such as Stevenson Gallery took a vintage space at the corner of Juta Street and De Korte Street, under Nelson Mandela Bridge, and so did Gallery Kalashnikovv
, which claimed its space on Juta Street, not far from Stevenson Gallery. These two galleries were later joined BKz Gallery, owned by award winning visual artist Banele Khoza next door. Opposite these galleries at the corner of Juta and de Beer, lies Kitcheners, a pub-cum restaurant popular with young hipsters, Gauteng’s millennials who made this place their own, attracted to it by its relatively cheap beers, good vibes of music and comedy. Kitcheners in fact has the distinction of being the second oldest bar in Johannesburg.
In short Braamfontein had found its groove, just like the rest of the city.
That was then, but four years later, around 2017, Braaomfontein, just like the rest of Johannesburg CBD, started taking a hard knock again, as a reverse process started to take form. Some hotels started to either close down or downgrade their services offer. Even when Covid-19 struck in 2020, the reality is, it found Braamfontein and Johannesburg CBD on a downward trajectory again. But Covid-19 accelerated the downward trend.
Stevenson Gallery has since left and so has BKz Gallery, having long relocated to the northern suburbs, BKz to Parkwood and Stevenson Gallery moving next door to Parktown North. The once pumping Kitcheners is still there, but a shell of its former self as the young and trendy have now moved to other trendy places, such as Maboneng and Parkwood.
However, a new breed of young entrepreneurs are seeing a bright future in Braam once everything is said and done and settled. A certain type of a daring entrepreneur is starting to lay their claim for business positioning in Braamfontein, investing in the area again, a demonstration of confidence that Braam will once again rise, just like it did about six years ago.
An example of such optimistic entrepreneurs are Kagiso and Oliver Johnson, who are running a creative and small business hub at Mangrove, De Beer and Smit streets in Braamfontein called Mangrove Studio.
They have taken occupation of the corner building and are turning this place into a vibrant creative and small business hub that has a section that accommodates small businesses in the fashion sector, a restaurant, Mangrove Restaurant, and have designed rooms that they have turned into board rooms for hire for those looking for holding meetings right in the heart of Braam. The two entrepreneurs even have an event space for product launches and even a mini music festival in the court yard of the Mangrove building.
And now on the first floor of Mangrove Studio building, they have recently opened an art gallery, Mangrove Art gallery that hosts art exhibitions in a unique way, pairing the openings with food and wine tasting, aligned to the inspiration behind the art works on exhibit. Artists get to talk about their art works on exhibit, while the Chef gets to talk about the food created specifically for the exhibition as well as the wine on offer on the night.
Mangrove Studio invites art lovers and collectors to a curated evening, Dinner With The Artist, an opportunity for the artist to break bread with the community of art lovers over meaningful conversations. Featured artists team up
with the in-house Mangrove chefs to create a four course meal with wine pairings, inspired by their artworks.
This week on Wednesday, October 6, 2021, I was invited to such an event, the launch of a group exhibition by The Arts Company Soweto titled, First, The Exhibition. featuring the works of visual artists David Tsoka, Thabo Motseki, Tebogo Moerane, Molefe Thwala, Phillip Mabote and Thokozani Madonsela.
Invited guests were served a four course meal whose menu was designed by Mangrove Restaurant’s in house Chef, Kagiso, who is the co-owner of Mangrove hub together with David. The menu was designed to align with the narrative of each artist’s art works, mainly prints on the walls.
The artists each explained the inspiration behind their art works on the walls as well as their art practice in general. Kagiso spoke about how he created a menu that interpreted the art works. It was a really interesting experience being at Mangrove on Wednesday as we enjoyed the dinner and the art talks. It is really a unique way of marketing art as well as marketing the Mangrove Restaurant and its other services.
“We opened the business last year, and unfortunately Covid-19 struck, but we soldiered on and here we are still in business. The whole idea is to have a restaurant, an art gallery, a business hub with boardrooms that can be hired for meetings, a section called Mangrove Street, that houses creatives in the fashion sector, as well as an events space that can be hired out for events, such as weddings and even a small concert all in one building,” Kagiso explained as he gave CITYLIFE/ARTS a mini tour on the sidelines of the dinner and art talks on Wednesday.
.Mangrove Studio is at the corner of 2 De Beer and Smit Street, in Braamfontein. For more information about Mangrove Studio contact firstname.lastname@example.org