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How Johannesburg's Most Neglected Buildings Ended Up Splashed With Pink Paint

A group of artists hoped to spark a debate about housing, architectural preservation, and history. But did they cross the line from protest to vandalism?
Shakespeare House.
Shakespeare House.Ryan Lenora Brown

When downtown Johannesburg's Shakespeare House first opened in 1938, the sleek Art Deco tower was a nod to South Africa's rising prominence in the world—an upscale Manhattan-style office building in the heart of Africa’s wealthiest city. Nearly eight decades later, the slumped and broken building has become a symbol for a different Johannesburg, one blighted by decades of white flight and municipal neglect.

But in July of last year, Shakespeare House got a vivid new makeover. A group of artists going by the name Beware of Colour marched through the inner city's abandoned buildings late at night, pouring pink paint from their gaping windows and splashing pigment across their crumbling facades.