Education and experience
Gavin Jantjes was born in 1948 in Cape Town, South Africa. During his
childhood Jantjes had the opportunity to study art at the Childrens
Art Centre in District 6. In 1969 he completed his B.A. at Michaelis School
of Fine Art, Cape Town. He left South Africa in 1970 on a scholarship
to the Hochschule für Bildende Künste, in Hamburg, Germany,
where he received an M.A. in 1972. He lived and worked in Hamburg from
197082, choosing not to return to a country organized around the
hate of apartheid. In 1982 he moved to Britain where he was an active
participant in the art scene. He curated a number of exhibitions, lectured
widely and served on the advisory boards of several galleries. Jantjes
has had several solo exhibitions as well as participated in group shows,
primarily in Europe and South Africa but also in Cuba and the United States.
He has since returned to live in South Africa.
The San are the indigenous peoples of the Cape of South Africa. They
have a strong oral tradition, and Jantjes was inspired to paint this picture
by reading poetic translations of one San womans narratives on creation
myths. The painting recalls a San tale about the creation of the stars
and Milky Way. In the story, a young girl reaches into the fire and throws
burning embers into the sky. The coals form the stars and the white ashes
become the Milky Way. The sky dominates this painting; Jantjes created
the Milky Way by using a grayish paint against the darker sky. A blue
line arcs through the picture from the top left corner. The three figures,
mere outlines of people situated in the bottom half of the painting, are
drawn in the style of Khoi San rock art. The sky can be seen through their
bodies, reinforcing the overwhelming nature of astronomic space.
This painting is part of the Zulu series. In English, the word Zulu literally
translates to the space above your head or the heavens.
The Zulu series, paintings and drawings depicting various images of cosmology,
reveals Jantjes inspirations from Khoi San rock art, mythology,
- Art, drawing, drama
Identify another creation myth and have the students act
out the story through a short play.
- Social studies, oral history
This painting incorporates a belief in how the Milky Way
was created. Among the San, such beliefs were passed down through oral
Have the student interview an older person and learn about stories from
the childs family or local history.
- Art, Language arts
Jantjes has been repeatedly inspired by poetry. Choose a poem rich in
visual imagery (or have students choose their own) and ask students to
respond by drawing, painting, or other form of artistic expression. Encourage
students to think about their reactions to the poem and translate those
reactions into images.
- Social studies research
Rock art, both paintings and carvings, are not singular to South
Africa. Have students research rock painting of different groups, including
those of Southern Africa, Australia, Europe, and the southwestern United
States. Compare them for content and style.
Search on the Internet for sites about rock art, especially for
those places not included here. Websites with images of rock art from around the world include:
American Rock Art Research Association (SW USA): http://www.arara.org/
The Cave of Chauvet-Pont-dArc (France):
Rock Art Foundation (SW USA):
Rock Art Research Institute (South Africa):
Many other artists have used images of the night sky in their work.
One famous painting is Van Goghs Starry Night. Have students compare
these works with celestial maps and this painting.
- Social studies
Social unrest: Artists in exile. Jantjes chose to stay out of South Africa
until the fear of apartheid was over. During the last century hundreds
of artists, writers, and members of the intellectual community have chosen
or been forced to leave their homes because they did not agree with the
policies of their governments. Discuss the policy of apartheid and what
it meant for the different peoples of South Africa. Where else have such
policies been in force?
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