Gavin Jantjes Colour this Labour Dirt Cheap 1974–5

Artwork details

Artist
Gavin Jantjes born 1948
Title
Colour this Labour Dirt Cheap
Date 1974–5
Medium Screenprint on card
Dimensions Image: 602 x 452 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Purchased 2002
Reference
P78650
View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Summary

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).

The print Colour this Labour Dirt Cheap presents the issue of black labour for white gain. It is based on a photograph by Cole of a black woman on her knees cleaning the floor in front of a sign reading ‘Whites Only, Ladies’ in English and Afrikaans. The black and white image is repeated nine times in a grid, suggesting that the woman is trapped in a cage and emphasising the ubiquitous nature of the situation of total political disempowerment of South African blacks. The text appended at the top of the print reiterates this; a quote from B.J. Vorster states: ‘It is true that there are blacks working for us. They will continue to work for us for generations, in spite of the ideal we have to separate them completely ... We need them because they work for us ... but the fact that they work for us can never ... entitle them to claim political rights ... under no circumstances can we grant them those political rights in our territory, neither now nor ever.’ At the base of the print a photograph of a large canvas being carried by several black men ironically links the labour issue with western art production.

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.


Further reading:
Warren Siebrits, States of Emergence: South Africa 1960-1990, exhibition catalogue, Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary Art, Johannesburg 2002, reproduced [p.24] in colour
Gavin Jantjes: Graphic Work 1974/1978, exhibition catalogue, Kulturhuset Stockholm 1978, reproduced p.14
Gavin Jantjes, A South African Colouring Book, Geneva [1978], reproduced [p.6] in colour

Elizabeth Manchester
September 2005

About this artwork