Gavin Jantjes

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South African artist, academic and curator

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Cape Town


Gavin Jantjes was born in Cape Town in 1948. He studied at the University of Cape Town's Michaelis School of Fine Art until 1969. On 1970, he received a DAAD scholarship to undertake a Master’s degree in the Hochschule FÁ¼r Bildende KÁ¼nste, in Hamburg.

For the most part of the 1970s, the artist became an active critic of the apartheid regime. One of his most radical expressions against the segregationist policy, and his most renowned work, is “South African Colouring Book”. It consists of eleven serigraphs constructed with photographs, news, drawings, text, and prints representative of apartheid. They are presented as a child’s colouring book with titles that sarcastically allude to the structural oppression and discrimination lived in South Africa under the Afrikaner Nationalist Party.

The sheet, “Colour these Blacks White” presents two negatives of coloured people photographed, the effect being that they appear white on film. Another titled “Classify this Coloured” centres on Gavin Jantjes’ identity card, which describes him as “Cape Coloured”. He stamps the word “classified” on the copy of his pass, later explaining the impact that this ostensibly simple classification will bring to someone’s life: “The racial label put on a non-white child at birth is not only a badge of a race, it is a permanent brand of inferiority, the brand of class distinction. Throughout his life his race label will warn all concerned which doors are open to him, and which are closed.”

Other pictures allude to the exploitation of the black population – “Colour this Labour Dirt Cheap”, “Colour this Slavery Golden” – and to the Sharpeville massacre – “Colour these People Dead”. On a graphic with the instructions “Colour this Whites Only”, the face of the South African Prime Minister Vorster merges into that of Adolf Hitler. The regime was not long in responding: the pictures were censored and the whole of Jantjes’ work was banned in South Africa. The artist was forced to go into exile.

From the moment of his exile, in 1982, Jantjes became an artistic advisor in many institutions. He was a member of the Arts Council of Great Britain from 1986 to 1990, advisor for the Institute on New International Visual Art’s Council in 1992, advisor for the Tate Gallery in London from 1992 to 1995. He taught Visual Arts at the Chelsea College of Art and Design, Liverpool in 1995, and was a curator of the Serpentine Gallery, London from 1995 to 1998. Since 1998, Gavin Jantjes has been the artistic director of the Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter in Oslo where he resides.

His works are displayed in public and private collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Arts Council of Great Britain, London; Wolverhampton City Art Gallery, Great Britain; Coventry City Museum and the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., USA.

• From Two Worlds”, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, Great Britain
• “Gavin Jantjes” Artist Biography. National Museum of African Art [online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 April 2009]  
• Gavin Jantjes” at The International Artists Database [online]. Available at: [Accessed 23 April 2009]
• Gavin Jantjes “Colour this Labour Dirt Cheap” 1974-5 Available at: Tate Collection [online] [Accessed 23 April 2009]

Last updated : 01-Nov-2016

This article was produced by South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011

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