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Gavin Jantjes Retrospective Debuts at Whitechapel Gallery

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Whitechapel Gallery and Sharjah Art Foundation, in collaboration with The Africa Institute, proudly present a landmark exhibition this June. “To Be Free! A Retrospective 1970–2023,” featuring the influential South African artist and activist Gavin Jantjes, will run from June 12 to September 1, 2024, at Whitechapel Gallery in London.

Gavin Jantjes, Untitled No. 1, 2022. From the ‘The Sharjah Series’, 2022. Produced by Sharjah Art Foundation. (Image courtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation. Photo: Shanavas Jamaluddin)

This retrospective, Jantjes’ largest solo presentation in the UK, assembles over 100 prints, drawings, and paintings. Many of these works will be exhibited in the UK for the first time, offering a comprehensive view of Jantjes’ five-decade career as a painter, printmaker, writer, and also curator. The exhibition highlights his crucial role in advancing discourses around Africa and its diasporas.

Presented across Whitechapel Gallery’s main exhibition spaces, “To Be Free!” delves into Jantjes’ artistic journey, marked by his exile to Europe and the ensuing impact on his work. The exhibition also features his groundbreaking prints, compelling figurative and metaphorical depictions of the global Black struggle for freedom, and his recent shift towards non-figurative painting.

Gavin Jantjes, born in 1948 in Cape Town amid South Africa’s apartheid, is a multifaceted artist and advocate. He explores art’s role in human rights, expression, and cultural understanding. His works are exhibited globally, including at the South African National Gallery, Tate London, and MoMA New York. Jantjes lectured at Chelsea College of Arts, further serving as artistic director for Henie Onstad Art Center and senior curator for the National Museum, Oslo. His books include “A Fruitful Incoherence” and “Visual Century: South African Art in Context.” Jantjes resides in Oxfordshire.

Adding depth to the exhibition, a 45-minute documentary titled “To Be Free,” directed by Paul Jantjes and produced by Studio 3 Oslo in Norway, will be also screened throughout the exhibition period. This film offers further insights into Jantjes’ life and artistic evolution.

The exhibition is accompanied by a new publication that documents the full breadth of the artist’s career. It includes a foreword by Hoor Al Qasimi, a critical essay on the artist by the exhibition’s curator, Salah M. Hassan, and contributions from writers Allison Young, Kendell Geers, Lars Elton, Dag Erik Elgin, and Premesh Lalu.

Curated by Salah M. Hassan, Gilane Tawadros, and Cameron Foote, this major exhibition builds on Jantjes’ solo show previously showcased by Sharjah Art Foundation. Whitechapel Gallery, founded in 1901, aims to enrich East London with art. The gallery showcases artists like Barbara Hepworth, Jackson Pollock, and Theaster Gates. Its Director, Gilane Tawadros, emphasizes local roots and global reach, fostering contemporary art engagement.

Sharjah Art Foundation, established in 2009, supports contemporary art in Sharjah. It hosts the Sharjah Biennial, March Meeting, and grants for artists. President Hoor Al Qasimi leads its mission to enrich Sharjah’s cultural heritage through exhibitions, performances, and educational programs.


Derrick Chidumebi is a creative writer and growth marketer hailing from Lagos, Nigeria. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Industrial Chemistry from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Nigeria, and is the founder of The Eko Place, a media/marketing agency based in Lagos, Nigeria. Currently, he serves as a writer for Art Network Africa.

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