Art and the Political: 1960s and 1970s

The 1960s and 1970s were a period of social and political transitions and transformations, marked by a series of historical events that would have profound effects on the future, our present. Central and Eastern Europe and the so-called Western world, and their geopolitical allies, were systemically transformed by the rivalry of the Cold War. In addition to the Vietnam War, the Asian political landscape was formed by the Cultural Revolution and hostile Sino-Soviet relations. Concurrently, most of Sub-Saharan Africa gained independence from colonial rule, marking the end of European empires. In Latin America, leftwing upheavals, U.S. intervention, and oppressive dictatorships were dominant in these decades. Moreover, the civil rights movement in the United States, along with the student and worker uprisings of May ‘68 in France, reverberated and sparked international solidarities across the world. This Theme explores the mobilization of artists and collectives—and the avant-garde responses, often international in scope, that these engendered—during two pivotal decades of global history.

Vera Pagava: A Miraculous Mirror

This text considers the work of Vera Pagava, a Georgian artist who lived in exile in Paris, as an amalgamation of modernist and Georgian art historic references. Following Pagava’s life story from Tbilisi, where she was born, to Germany and later Paris, where she settled with her family in 1923 and lived until her death in 1988, this essay introduces her work in relation to that of various other Georgian artists, simultaneously tracing her path from figuration to abstraction.

Art for Liberation’s Sake: The Activist Art of Gavin Jantjes

In his screen-prints of the 1970s, South African artist Gavin Jantjes sought to convey the urgency and interconnectedness of global Black liberation movements. As an art student in exile in Hamburg, Jantjes dedicated his early practice to raising awareness of the brutal injustices of the apartheid system in South Africa, engaging with anti-colonial struggles waged by African and African-Diasporic populations around the world. In this essay, art historian Allison K. Young looks at a selection of early abstracted, dynamic compositions which evidence his belief in the connection between art and resistance, and his commitment to solidarity between localized struggles across the diaspora.

Working with Peripheries: Workshop for the Restoration of Unfelt Feelings

In this essay, Māra Traumane guides readers through the diverse, interdisciplinary practice of the Riga-based collective Workshop for the Restoration of Unfelt Feelings (NSRD), which operated from the end of the 1970s until 1989. NSRD was involved in the avant-garde music scene as well as in architecture, and their activities ranged from concerts and the production of record albums to performances, writing, and video art.

Ojeikere: Fleeting and Captured Moments

In 1970, Johnson Donatus Aihumekeokhai Ojeikere, otherwise known as J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere (Nigerian, 1930–2014), made Fro Fro, the point of departure of this short text. Storyteller and lens-based artist Jumoke Sanwo reads this image, produced during Nigeria’s nationalist drive and considers Ojeikere’s subjects and their unapologetic defiance.

Gladys Mgudlandlu Painted Land(e)scapes that Bent the Genre to Her Will

If landlessness is another condition that transforms Africans into wanderers, with nothing but their labor to sell for a pittance, then the genre of landscape painting in South Africa represents a space-time of possession and dispossession. Implicit in Gladys Mgudlandlu’s landscapes is a reminder of how the ownership of land has historically epitomized South African nationhood.