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Jantjes was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and studied fine art at the University of Cape Town (1966-9). He left South Africa in 1970 after being awarded a DAAD scholarship to study at the Staatliche Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg, Germany (1970-2). A South African Colouring Book was produced in Hamburg in 1974 and 75. It is a series of eleven poster-type prints made up of image and text presented in the guise of a child’s colouring book. Each page is screenprinted from a collage, based on a gridded background, comprising photographs, newsprint, drawings and sections of printed, stencilled and handwritten text. A drawing book logo is stamped on the black portfolio cover and on many of the prints. Similarly a row of six blocks of colour may emphasise the ‘colouring’ activity. Additional sections of text are attached by paper clip to several prints. The titles all refer to colour – the concept central to race discrimination in South Africa which is the principal subject of this work. Jantjes used a combination of personal material – such as his own identity pass card, defining him as a ‘Cape Coloured’ (see Tate P78648) – with material culled from the external world including financial market reports in the newspapers (Tate P78653), cultural texts (Tate P78649) and photographs by the black South African photojournalist Ernest Cole (1940-90) who documented the sufferings of black South Africans during the 1960s (Tate P78649-52). The photographs Jantjes used were all published in Cole’s book House of Bondage (New York, 1967). Images of black miners, massacred innocents and exploited workers combine with excerpts quoting the words of B.J. Vorster (1915-83), South African Prime Minister (1966-78) and upholder of the apartheid regime (Tate P78647, P78650 and P78654).
Colour these Blacks White features two photographs by Ernest Cole reproduced negatively so as to invert black and white. The upper image shows a married couple getting into a car, surrounded by a crowd of people. Because of the inversion of black and white, the bride appears dressed in mourning and the bridal ribbons on the car suggest a funeral. The photograph below was taken at a beauty contest. A man in shirt sleeves and a tie stands talking into a microphone next to a group of women wearing ribbons around their dresses proclaiming their area. Arrows superimposed on the photograph point to the man and several women in the group. All the people in the photographs are ‘black’ but appear ‘white’ because of the negative inversion. A quote from the famous text Black Skin, White Masks (1952) by the French anti-colonial activist Frantz Fanon (1925-61) is appended at the top of the print. It reads: ‘Having judged, condemned, abandoned his cultural forms, his language, his food habits, his sexual behaviour, his way of sitting down, of resting, of laughing, of enjoying himself, the oppressed FLINGS HIMSELF [sic] upon the imposed culture with the desperation of a drowning man.’ At the bottom of the page a photograph of an African mask counterbalances the western cultural activities enacted by the people in the photographs.
A South African Colouring Book superficially recalls the series of death and disaster prints by American Pop artist Andy Warhol (1928-87). However, Warhol’s prints are commodity related, while Jantjes’ are overtly political in their message. Jantjes has emphasised that history is central to culture and that African art has always been dependent on a wider cultural and political sphere. He has stated that: ‘African works of art appear meaningless unless seen in relation to Africa’s cultural and historic reality ... The environments of today’s Africa demand liberation from inhumanity. Can the art of Africa ignore this demand? Can it be anything else than art for liberation’s sake?’ (Quoted in Gavin Jantjes: Graphic Work 1974/1978, p.7.) During the 1970s, Jantjes saw his work as playing a particular role in the struggle against the oppressive apartheid regime – more specifically to speak and be heard in what he called the dominating colonial ‘culture of silence’ in which the oppressed peoples had no voice. In 1978 he wrote: ‘the Colouring Book project was my first step out of the culture of silence. It is therefore dedicated to all those struggling for humanity and equal rights.’ (Quoted in A South African Colouring Book, [p.1].)
A South African Colouring Book was produced in an edition of twenty. Tate’s copy is the eighteenth in the edition.
Warren Siebrits, States of Emergence: South Africa 1960-1990, exhibition catalogue, Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary Art, Johannesburg 2002, reproduced [p.25] in colour
Gavin Jantjes: Graphic Work 1974/1978, exhibition catalogue, Kulturhuset Stockholm 1978
Gavin Jantjes, A South African Colouring Book, Geneva [1978?], reproduced [p.5] in colour