A critical work in the history of contemporary art is "A South African Colouring Book," a suite of eleven prints plus cover created in 1974-1975 by the noted South African artist Gavin Jantjes. "A South African Colouring Book" is a veritable compendium of critical commentary and reflection on South Africa's apartheid era. The works are exquisitely produced, demonstrating Jantjes' skills as a master printmaker and a compelling visual artist. The prints mix photographic images, drawing and both handwritten and typed texts with effective use of color to create works rich with pathos and irony in the exploration of racial classification, conflict and exploitation. A starting point for the work was Jantjes' own identity card and the artist's handwritten notations on the three main racial groups as identified in South Africa's Population Registration Act. In these powerful works, the artist plays with the irony of "color" to address the insidious means through which the regime "colored" the individuals within it. Many of the prints incorporate a color bar in bright pigments and circular registers complete with "colour these…" directions, a clear reference to apartheid era racial classifications. However, the work operates on a broader level, as the artist manipulates the innocent notion of school coloring books through juxtapositions of images and texts that underscore the systematic racism prevalent in South African educational and social institutions.
"A South African Colouring Book" is a particularly well-known work by Gavin Jantjes. It was featured in a number of important exhibitions including "Art Contre Apartheid" at the Centre Pompidou Paris--an exhibition that traveled to six other venues worldwide; "Documenta 6" in Kassel, Germany; and most recently at P.S. 1 as part of the exhibition "The Short Century."
Suite of eleven prints + cover combining imagery and text representing individuals and events associated with political oppression and racial injustice in South Africa. Images include scenes of protest, police violence against demonstrators, a funerary cortege, a beauty pageant, and depictions of manual work. One of the prints includes a page from the artist's passbook, with handwritten text below. Many of the prints include a color bar in bright pigments and an area of two parallel rows of five circles, some with the directions "colour these…"
Gavin Jantjes, Oslo, Norway, -- to 2003
Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, May 9- August 26, 2007; Fowler Museum at University of California, Los Angeles, October 14, 2007-February 17, 2008
Body of Evidence-Rotation 1, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., June 14-October 15, 2006
Kreamer, Christine, Mary Nooter Roberts, Elizabeth Harney and Allyson Purpura. 2007. Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution; Milan: 5 Continents Editions, pp. 220-222, no. 18.21a-k.