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 Towns 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 regions 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 Durbana 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 hes 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.

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Golden Mile Beach

A walk along the famed Golden Mile Beachan iconic stretch of seashore named for its unreal yellow hueis 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.


Durban Boardwalk

Hart suggests checking out the work of one of his favorite local design teams while youre strolling the beach. designworkshop: SA, headed by Janina Madojada and Andrew Makin, recently re-vamped the boardwalk to include Mini-Towna 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 villagea 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

Its the hotel that time forgotin 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 theyre Don Draper with a stiff drink in the hotel lounge or enjoy a Gidget-style beach party with friends. For those whod 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, Durbans cultural mlange 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. “Theyre a little harrowingmonkey heads and hyena pelts and all manner of pungent roots and leavesbut I find it wildly inspiring.”


The Corner Caf

A popular meeting spot for Durbans creatives to grab a cup of espresso and catch up, the Corner Cafs 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.

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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 Durbans immigrant culture and complex past, Unitys menu features curried bunny chowa 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 Robsons Brewery in Shongweni.

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KZNSA Gallery

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 Caf photo courtesy of 10and5, Unity Bar & Brasserie courtesy of Durban is Yours, KZNSA courtesy of KZNSA, all others by Laura Feinstein