Gavin Jantjes (b. 1948)
Quietly at Tea

oil on canvas
5918 x 59in. (150.3 x 150cm.)
Painted in 1981
Edward Totah Gallery, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
O. Enwezor, C. Okeke-Agulu, Contemporary African Art Since 1980, Bologna 2009, p. 361 (illustrated in colour, p. 61).
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Lot Essay

In energizingly vibrant hues and a detail-rich composition, Quietly at Tea exemplifies Gavin Jantjes’ ability to subvert the conventions of figurative representation, using complementary colour, interlocking pattern and flattened form to propose alternative perspectives. A vehement campaigner against apartheid in his native South Africa, in 1978 Jantjes was commissioned by the United Nations to create a series of internationally-distributed posters which distilled through visual means the political struggle experienced in the country. In 1981, the year in which Quietly at Tea was painted, Jantjes moved to London: references to the tension he experienced between the colonial western world and black diaspora are woven into the fabric of this work. A colourful circle of men around the piano act as allegories of key western values; priest, businessman and soldier symbolise religious sovereignty, wealth and patriotism respectively. Curator Rasheed Araeen suggests; ‘Jantjes’ concern has not just been to confront the system through the rhetoric of ‘political art’ but to develop a modern language of art which reflects the contemporary struggle of African culture...’ (R. Araeen, The Other Story, Hayward Gallery 1989, pp. 65-66). A discarded African sculpture topples in the corner of the composition, seeking to undermine the canon of Western modernity, which Jantjes believed owed a debt to African culture: ‘African Art became the catalyst for the most fundamental change in European artistic expression’ (G. Jantjes, quoted in The Other Story, Hayward Gallery 1989, p.173). Beside painting, Jantjes served as curator at the Tate, Whitechapel Gallery, Serpentine Gallery, and Hayward Gallery, dedicating his career to introducing audiences to marginalised art historical narratives. A visually beautiful scene as well as an elegant protest against the social injustices of its time, Quietly at Tea is a testament to the political power of art.

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