Gavin Jantjes: To Be Free! A Retrospective 1970 – 2023

12 Jun-1 Sep 2024

Whitechapel Gallery
London E1 7QX


This timely retrospective of Oxfordshire-based South African painter and printmaker Gavin Jantjes (b. 1948, South Africa) is his largest solo presentation in the UK to date. It brings together more than five decades of the artist’s diverse and distinctive practice.

Through over 100 prints, drawings, and paintings, as well as archival material, the exhibition celebrates Jantjes as a significant and critical agent of change while tracing his development as a painter, printmaker, writer, curator and activist.

Structured into chapters spanning 1970 to the present, To Be Free! focuses on pivotal phases in Jantjes’s life, from his formative years in Cape Town during the early years of South African apartheid (1948–1994), his transformative role at art institutions in the UK, Germany and Norway, his compelling figurative portrayals of the global Black struggle for freedom, to his recent transition to non-figurative painting. Jantjes’ journey embodies a quest for artistic emancipation, marked by a search for an autonomous form, freed from Eurocentric traditions and expectations of Black creativity.

The exhibition also focuses on Jantjes’ influence on the cultural landscape of London. His anti-apartheid print series A South African Colouring Book was shown at the ICA in1976, and his role as both exhibiting artist and co-curator in the ground-breaking 1986 Whitechapel Gallery exhibition From Two Worlds cemented his position as a major voice in the UK’s arts scene.

Importantly, 2024 marks the 30th anniversary of the first free general election in South Africa, resulting in Nelson Mandela’s eventual presidency. Jantjes returned to South Africa in 1994 to participate in the momentous event after spending over twenty years in exile from his home country.  It was his active critique of the oppression and discrimination faced under the leadership of the Afrikaner Nationalist Party that rendered him exiled, with his entire artistic and academic career censored.

To be Free! provides an unprecedented opportunity for audiences, especially those new to his work, to recognise and explore the full breadth of Jantjes’ career and his leading role in furthering the discourses around and representation of Africa and its diasporas.