18 Nov 2023 - 10 Mar 2024

To Be Free! A Retrospective 1970–2023

Sharjah Art Foundation


Sharjah Art Foundation and The Africa Institute presentthe first retrospective of acclaimed South African artist and activist Gavin Jantjes. Featuring over 100 works from 1970 to the present, Gavin Jantjes: To Be Free! A Retrospective 1970–2023 underscores pivotal phases in the artist’s life and career over the last 50 years. The exhibition includes his early work in printmaking, painting and anti-apartheid activism; his transformative role at art institutions in the UK, Germany and Norway; his figurative portrayals of the global Black struggle for freedom; and his recent transition to non-figurative painting. The exhibition also debuts a new series of large-scale paintings that Jantjes created during his 2022 residency at Sharjah Art Foundation. The exhibition is on view at Galleries 4, 5 and 6 in Al Mureijah Art Spaces from 18 November 2023 through 10 March 2024.

‘Gavin’s prolific career in artistry and activism draws connections between freedom movements in Africa and around the world. This long-overdue retrospective spotlights the work that he has done for decades to help preserve histories threatened by erasure, shed light on the effects of colonisation and protect freedom of expression,’ says exhibition curator Salah M. Hassan, Director of The Africa Institute. ‘It is especially exciting to premiere this exhibition in Sharjah, where Gavin’s recent residency at Sharjah Art Foundation cultivated exciting new work that builds on his recent explorations in non-figurative painting.’

He spent his formative years under apartheid in Cape Town, from where he was exiled at the age of 22 for his work as an artist and activist. Jantjes has long pursued a quest for artistic emancipation free from Eurocentric perspectives and expectations. His cross-disciplinary practice incorporates printmaking, sculpting, writing and most frequently painting, employing a wide range of motifs and palettes to engage with histories of slavery, civil rights movements and post-colonial freedom struggles around the world. Currently based in the UK, Jantjes is regarded as one of South Africa’s most important artists and is internationally recognised for his work as a human rights activist.

Providing a framework through which viewers can examine the system of apartheid and its contemporary legacies, To Be Free! encompasses each aspect of Jantjes’ polymath career—his curatorial initiatives, writings and wider role as an advocate for social liberation. Organised in chapters that mark significant moments in Jantjes’ life and unfurl various threads of his practice, the exhibition brings together more than 100 prints, drawings, paintings and film works as well as an extensive collection of archival material such as books, photographs, newspaper clippings and videos from the past five decades. The final chapter presents his most recent non-figurative series ‘Sharjah.’ These paintings, some of his largest to date, conjure ethereal realms that provoke self-reflection and leave viewers free to draw their own interpretations.

Press release from Sharjah Art Foundation

Image: Gavin Jantjes. Untitled. 1989.From ‘Zulu’, c.1984–1990. Arts Council Collection, London. Image courtesy of the artist and Arts Council