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 Workers Sold Out, like Colour this Slavery Golden (Tate P78652) and Gold Market (Tate P78653), presents the issue of exploitation through the use of cheap African labour on the mines from which white South Africa derived its wealth. The print is based on a photograph by Cole of a group of migrant workers – four men and a woman – who stand waiting, possibly for transport somewhere as is suggested by the suitcase one of them carries. Their tatty clothes and the blankets they wear like coats indicate their poverty. During the apartheid years South Africa gained enormous economic power from its gold mining operations in and around Johannesburg, a city established at the turn of the nineteenth century as a result of the developing mines. A small print attached to the top of the page shows two Africans on horseback riding past a sign reading ‘Native Recruiting’ during the early years of mining activities. Over the decades millions of African labourers from all parts of southern Africa have converged on the area to be employed in the mines. They do all the physical labour, often in very bad conditions, under the supervision of white bosses, who benefit from the profits. The bad conscience of white South Africans regarding the mines is treated by South African artist William Kentridge (born 1955) in his animated films series Drawings for Projection, beginning with Johannesburg the Second Greatest City After Paris 1989 (Tate T07482).
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.22] in colour
Gavin Jantjes: Graphic Work 1974/1978, exhibition catalogue, Kulturhuset Stockholm 1978
Gavin Jantjes, A South African Colouring Book, Geneva [1978?], reproduced [p.7] in colour