SAF hosts South African artist-activist Jantjes and emerging photographers - GulfToday

SAF hosts South African artist-activist Jantjes and emerging photographers

Installation view of various works of Gavin Jantjes from Korabra.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF) and The Africa Institute (TAI) are presenting the first retrospective of acclaimed South African artist and activist Gavin Jantjes (Nov. 18, 2023 — Mar. 10). 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. It also debuts a new series of large-scale paintings that he created during his 2022 residency at SAF. It is on view at Galleries 4, 5 and 6 in SAF’s Al Mureijah Art Spaces, Sharjah.

“Gavin’s prolific career in artistry and activism draws connections between freedom movements in Africa and around the world,” says exhibition curator Salah M. Hassan and TAI Director. “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.

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.”

 Installation view of Mohamed Mahdy’s work A Place to Begin from VPS.

Jantjes 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. He 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.

Currently based in the UK, he 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! engages with 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 his life and unfurling various threads of his practice, the exhibition brings together 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 titled Sharjah. The paintings, some of his largest to date, conjure ethereal realms that encourage self-reflection with viewers left to draw their own interpretations and conclusions.
Jantjes was born in Cape Town just as the apartheid regime in South Africa was beginning its ascent. Drawing on personal experience, he explores the role of art in furthering human rights, freedom of expression and cultural understanding.

 Installation view of Gavin Jantjes Untitled work, 1989.

He has exhibited internationally, and his works can be found in the collections of the South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Tate, London; and Museum of Modern Art, New York. He has received commissions from the United Nations Refugee Council and the UN Commission on Apartheid. 

He has lectured at Chelsea College of Arts in London and served as artistic director for the Henie Onstad Art Center, Norway (1998–2004), and served as senior curator for the National Museum, Oslo (2004–2014). His many books include A Fruitful Incoherence (Iniva, 1998) and the four-volume Visual Century: South African Art in Context 1907–2007 (Wits University Press, 2010). He lives and works in Oxfordshire. Hassan is Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences in Africana, Cornell University, USA. He is an art historian, curator and art critic and founding editor of Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art (Duke University Press).  

Vantage Point Sharjah (VPS), SAF’s annual photography exhibition, also returns for its 11th edition (Oct. 14 - Jan. 14). It features four artists and one collective, whose work attempts to challenge notions of photographic practices. The exhibition runs at the Old Al Diwan Al Amiri in Al Hamriyah, Sharjah. This year, VPS identifies and supports early-career photographers who were born in Africa and Asia, who are currently based there, or who are part of the diaspora.

From an international open call that received more than 350 applications, the selected artists embody diverse approaches but share overlapping tendencies such as the pursuit of contemporary image-making techniques, the recontextualisation of found or inherited images and engagement with the visual afterlives of colonialist legacies.

Oumaima Abaraghe (b. 1999, Casablanca) uses collage techniques and digital manipulation to reconstruct Morocco’s fragmentary colonial archive, signalling its inherent fallibility. Yashna Kaul (b. 1995, Mumbai) unearths secrets embedded in her family’s photo album and reveals how the framing of a moment can shape personal histories and collective memory.

Through emotive storytelling, Mohamed Mahdy (b. 1996, Giza) documents the displacement of the fishing community of El Maks, Alexandria, and captures the impact of urban redevelopment policies. Questioning the aspirations of nation-state imagery, Postbox Ghana consisting of Nana Ofosu Adjei (b. 1993, Accra), Courage Dzidula Kpodo (b. 1999, Kumasi) and Manuela Nebuloni (b. 1986, Milan), resituates popular postcard images of post-independence Ghana. Clea Rekhou (b. 1988, Paris) contrasts a series of intimate family portraits with narratives of generational violence, suggesting the complexity of human relationships.



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