Quietly at Tea, 1978

Gavin Jantjes, Quietly at Tea, 1978. Jorge M. Pérez Collection, Miami. Image courtesy of Jorge M. Pérez


To Be Free! traces the multifarious journey of Gavin Jantjes as a creative agent of change, celebrating his multifaceted roles as painter, printmaker, writer, curator and activist. Driven by his formative years in Cape Town, which coincided with the early years of South African apartheid (1948–1994), Jantjes journey embodies a quest for artistic emancipation, with a freedom not bound by the Eurocentric gaze or expectations of Black creativity. For Jantjes, this quest has meant a life of itinerant exile manifesting in multiple careers.

Structured into chapters spanning 1970 to the present, To Be Free! underscores pivotal phases in Jantjes life. It explores his engagement with anti-apartheid activism in the 1970s to mid-1980s, his transformative role at art institutions in the UK, Germany and Norway and his compelling figurative portrayals of the global Black struggle for freedom as well as his recent transition to non-figurative painting.

This comprehensive retrospective also provides insights into Jantjes’ curatorial initiatives, written contributions and wider advocacy, demonstrating his significant impact on both African and African diaspora art and the global contemporary art scene. Through the various threads of his career over the last 50 years, his work has transcended temporal and geographical confines and asserted the relevance of African art in global cultural dialogues.

Organised in collaboration with The Africa Institute, Sharjah, this exhibition is curated by Salah M. Hassan, Director, The Africa Institute, and Distinguished Professor, Cornell University.

Gavin Jantjes: To Be Free! A Retrospective 1970–2023 will travel to the Whitechapel Gallery, London, where it will be on view 12 June – 1 September 2024. Organised by Whitechapel Gallery and Sharjah Art Foundation, in collaboration with The Africa Institute, Sharjah, the exhibition is curated by Salah M. Hassan, in collaboration with Gilane Tawadros and Cameron Foote.