Artist Profile: Gavin Jantjes

1 August 2020

This month Cat Gibbard, Programme Curator at Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange looks at the work of Gavin Jantjes, whose work features in National Partners Programme Exhibition, Go On Being So.

Gavin Jantjes was born in District Six, Cape Town, South Africa in 1948. In 1976 he briefly moved to London and worked with the Poster Collective, a politically motivated group producing posters and banners in response to the miners’ strike and conflicts in Vietnam and Ireland. Jantjes’ A South African Colouring Book, a set of anti-apartheid screen prints, was exhibited at the ICA in London.

His exhibition coincided with the infamous 1976 Soweto Uprising in which students between the ages of 10 to 17 protested against the implementation of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction for their lessons rather than the student’s home languages. An estimated 20,000 young people took part nationwide.They were met with fierce police brutality. The number of fatalities has never been confirmed but 150 was the figure most frequently given.


Jantjes editioned Freedom Hunters a year later in Hamburg, Germany where he then lived. He describes the political works he produced at this time as “A need to cry rage, yet simultaneously I wanted a voice that could sing a visual song for and of Black people.” Freedom Hunters contains photos by SA photographers Peter Magubane and George Hallett along with images from international television. It also includes the following poem by Steven Smith:

We’ll evolve

From one germ

Molecule of freedom

Into millions more

We’ll pollute your white air

With Black fury

Till it’s filled

To the brim


White South Africa

We’ll come down 

Upon you

As an epidemic

of Black

Freedom hunters

The first in a new series of podcasts produced by Newlyn Art Gallery's features an interview with Gavin Jantjes in which he discusses his work and addresses the curators of Go On Being So: “..the students were about your age, they protested and marched and shut their schools down and the state’s reply was to shoot them …if the poem appears rather angry, you can understand why.” 

Listen to the podcast in full via the Newlyn Art Gallery website.


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