Word of Mouth: Durban
Word of Mouth: Durban
Creative tips from the talented multidisciplinary artist Richard Hart on South Africa's historic port city
by Laura Feinstein
2014 is shaping up to be the year of South African design. From Cape Town’s title as world design capital to a series of high profile public arts projects, the formerly embattled country has flourished under a recent wave of creativity. This is due partly to the hard work of organizations like Design Indaba, which highlights local talent and attracts international recognition, but the spotlight also belongs to the region’s gifted creatives.
One of these illustrious individuals is artist, designer and illustrator Richard Hart, who ran design studio Disturbance for 14 years in his hometown of Durban, where he helped build a resilient and still thriving network of graphic designers and design professionals, often collaborating with Design Indaba. Since leaving Disturbance, Hart has developed his skills as a fine artist with several popular solo shows throughout South Africa, spanning every medium from video installations to paintings and often blending elements of traditional African design, like vivid and saturated color with modern shapes and compositions.
We recently asked Hart for some of his favorite spots in Durban—a coastal city known for its stunning beaches, prime surfing conditions and as the former home of Mahatma Gandhi. Though Hart recently moved to Brooklyn, where he’s more likely to be found working away in his ceramics studio than catching a wave, Hart was kind enough to let us know what makes this gem of a city so special.
Golden Mile Beach
A walk along the famed Golden Mile Beach—an iconic stretch of seashore named for its unreal yellow hue—is a must for any and every visit to Durban. "Aside from the fact that I surf, the Durban beachfront promenade was overhauled a few years back in anticipation of the FIFA world cup, and ever since then it has really become such a wonderful and well used public space,” says Hart. In addition to swimming and tanning, the vibrant beachfront also contains plenty of eco-friendly eating spots, and market vendors selling traditional Zulu arts and crafts.
Hart suggests checking out the work of one of his favorite local design teams while you’re strolling the beach. designworkshop: SA, headed by Janina Madojada and Andrew Makin, recently re-vamped the boardwalk to include Mini-Town—a stretch of oceanfront architecture that includes a restaurant and juice shop, public ablution facility, skate shop and skate park. Other projects the team has embarked upon in Durban include LIV village—a safe housing complex for over 1000 orphaned and vulnerable children, as well as an early childhood development center, clinic and sports arena.
The Blue Waters Hotel
“It’s the hotel that time forgot—in the nicest possible way,” says Hart about the glamorously retro Blue Waters Hotel. A local landmark, Blue Waters is a technicolor throwback to '50s kitsch mixed with the luxury Art Deco design styles of the '70s. Here visitors can pretend they’re Don Draper with a stiff drink in the hotel lounge or enjoy a Gidget-style beach party with friends. For those who’d like to experience a visit to Durban digitally, the hotel has provided a 24/7 beach cam.
The Spice Market
With a vibrant immigrant community that includes one of the largest Indian populations on the continent, Durban’s cultural mélange is reflected in their legendary spice markets. Though the colorful booths and stalls are popular with tourists, locals also enjoy picking up seasonings from countries spanning from Ghana to Morocco. “I love the herbalist and muti markets,” says Hart. "They’re a little harrowing—monkey heads and hyena pelts and all manner of pungent roots and leaves—but I find it wildly inspiring."
The Corner Café
A popular meeting spot for Durban’s creatives to grab a cup of espresso and catch up, the Corner Café’s renovated warehouse-style space is one of the best places to pick up tips on local culture and upcoming events. In addition to a strong brew, visitors can also snack on fresh pies, breads and juices, and peruse the on-premise vintage store stocked with hidden treasures as well as new duds by local designers.
Unity Bar & Brasserie
Part bar part unofficial social club, Unity has built a name in Durban for its ethically sourced foods and locally tinged flavor. This unassuming spot boasts an impressive selection of South African beef (which many claim is some of the most tender in the world), as well as a range of organic meats from KZN area farms. As a tribute to Durban’s immigrant culture and complex past, Unity’s menu features curried bunny chow—a sandwich-like traditional street food created during apartheid as a way for those barred from eating establishments to enjoy fresh, hot meals as take-out. For beer lovers, owners Marcelle and Sean recently added their own handcrafted pilsner, brewed by the legendary Robson’s Brewery in Shongweni.
Though it was founded over 108 years ago as a creative collective, the KZNSA Gallery remains the best place in Durban for artists to exhibit and have an open discourse on their work. A local talent incubator, the KZNSA regularly hosts cutting edge exhibitions from artists across the nation as well as internationally. Their in-house shop also acts a mini-traditional market for local craft and design, and their outreach programs play a strategic role in developing art and culture education activities with community partners.
Word of Mouth presents a destination the way we experienced it. Following both trusted tips and our own whims we explore with the goal of finding what's unique to that place. For deeper looks at some of our favorite metropolises, check out our CH City Guides.
Corner Café photo courtesy of 10and5, Unity Bar & Brasserie courtesy of Durban is Yours, KZNSA courtesy of KZNSA, all others by Laura Feinstein