To Be Free? Art and the Politics of Liberation

  • Untitled

    Gavin Jantjes, Freedom Hunters, 1977, Screenprint on paper, 100 × 70 cm. Courtesy the artist. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Ann Purkis © Gavin Jantes, licensed by DACS

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Saturday 6 July, 11.30-17.30

Zilkha Auditorium

Monday Closed
Tuesday 11am–6pm
Wednesday 11am–6pm
Thursday 11am–9pm
Friday 11am–6pm
Saturday 11am–6pm
Sunday 11am–6pm

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To Be Free? Art and the Politics of Liberation

What is the role of art in liberation movements? What happens to culture in the wake of conflict? 

This special day of panel discussions considers how artists have played a role in resisting political oppression around the world, what cultural forms follow historic moments of political change, and how international artistic solidarities continue to shape liberation movements. Join artists, writers, curators and activists as they explore these key issues together. 

The programme is inspired by our current exhibition Gavin Jantjes: To Be Free! A Retrospective (1970–2023), which features portrayals of a global Black struggle for freedom as well as work drawing on the artist’s personal experience of and resistance to apartheid in South Africa. 


11.30 Introduction by Gilane Tawadros (Director, Whitechapel Gallery) 

11.40-13.00 Panel 1: Art and Political Freedom: Towards Justice 

The politically concerned artist feels impelled to do more than just march with fellow demonstrators. There is a need to distinguish an artistic response from the greater public outcry. – Gavin Jantjes 

This panel explores the relationship between art making and political action. Can art create change beyond raising awareness? What is the function of art in political movements? 

14.00-15.30 Panel 2: Where Do We Go From Here? Art in the Aftermath 

The problem of liberation is also one of culture. In the beginning it’s culture and in the end it’s also culture. – Amilcar Cabral 

This panel considers what it means to make art in the wake of historic political change. How does culture shift in response to new political realities? What role can abstraction and poetics have? What about failure and disappointment? 

16.00-17.30 Panel 3: Acts of Solidarity: Art and Global Justice Movements 

The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody is free. – Maya Angelou 

This final panel considers forms of international artistic solidarity developed in response to oppression and violence. How might art generate a sense of political unity or purpose? What models of collective action are artists developing in the present day? What can art offer in the face of enduring and rising fascism?