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The Gallery 281 on Long Street

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The Gallery 281 on Long Street

The Mother City welcomes a new space for artistic expression

At the top of bustling Long Street sits a lovely Victorian building which dates back to 1862. 281 Long Street is now open for business, offering a versatile platform for creatives to gather and showcase their work.

In December 2016, 281 Long Street opened its doors to the artsy folk for a showcasing of two local street photographers’ work. The venue is said to be a creative space to be used in a way that spaces have not yet been allocated for: “We wanted it to be beautiful, simple, warm and able to be adapted to whatever people wanted to do here”, says owner Jan Davids with an optimistic smile. The gallery (which is what the venue was used as at the launch) introduced two young photographers, Josh Hundermark and Michelle Viljoen, as the first artists to occupy the space as they set the tone for the theme “A State of Otherness” for the multipurpose venue.

The walls were spatially decorated with unique faces telling different stories. Both photographers incorporated their vast travel experience through their lenses. Together, Josh and Michelle showcased snaps of New York, San Francisco, and of course, the streets of Cape Town. “We both love China towns. Chinese people have such a beautiful character in their faces and they age rapidly, so there’s a lot of story to tell in each face”, explains Josh.

“I started realizing how energizing it is to be mindful and present in the moment”, says street photographer Michelle Viljoen. “A State of Otherness is about capturing that moment of the in-between. It’s people doing their day-to-day and then capturing the beauty of those moments, and capturing it in a way of silent intrusion, but doing so in a respectful manner”.

According to Jan, Josh and Michelle were chosen based on his impression of an Instagram post which his partner, Collette Van Schalkwyk had shown him: “I said to her that’s exactly what I like, personally; exactly what I’d like to see in the place and they are people who haven’t really been showcased in galleries before. We thought they are kind of new-kids-on-the-block and like us, they have a sensitivity to the other. And we thought that part of our venues job is to embrace the other, to make the space that spaces are not really made for.”

When entering the building, there is a feeling of timelessness. When Jan first saw the structure, “I thought it was so beautiful, that it deserved to be something.” The crisp white walls, printed with quotes by the artists, compliment the rich wooden staircase and the fluorescent lights inside the space. The buzz of the evening drew me in as people walked around with their wine glasses and dim sum snacks, taking a moment to really appreciate the art of otherness. 

This theme of otherness is more than just a theme for the launch event, but rather a recurring one: “The city’s function is to provide a space for the other. Maybe you’re an estranged person from a small town, you’re supposed to come to the city and find people like you, and know that you belong in this world. And for me, that’s our job as a venue, to represent the city in that way.”

The space is intended to be a middle ground between artists and observers. Jan and Collette will continue to work with artists with a certain level of sensitivity and integrity to their art: “We meet the artists halfway. Our process is to understand the artist, get a sense of what they’re doing and look for integrity. Those are the kinds of things we’re looking at”, exclaims Jan.

“With this exhibition, the space here has been beautiful and I couldn’t have asked for a better setting to show off street photography”, says Josh with an enthusiastic smile, “Just setting up this beautiful space, on the street, that lends itself to the environment and atmosphere that we’re trying to portray in our photos, is an honour”.

Note: The venue does not have opening hours as of yet, but stay updated by following 281 Long Street on Facebook

Tip: Up-and-coming artists can contact Collette at 281long@gmail.com to make use of the venue for creative purposes


281 Long Street | Cape Town City Centre | +27(0)82 558 4804

By Marian Volkwyn | Image Credit: Josh Hundermark and 281 Long Street

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