Artist: Keith Haring
Title: Untitled (Free South Africa): one plate
Size: 39 7/8 x 39 1/2 in. (81 x 100.3 cm)
Medium: Lithograph in colors, on Rives BFK paper, with full margins
Edition: 37 of 60
Notes: Signed, dated and numbered to lower edge. From the Free South Africa series. Published by Edition Schellmann. In very good condition with no apparent issues. Includes certificate of authenticity.
Keith Haring was profoundly political and actively engaged in the pertinent questions and issues of his era. He fearlessly confronted weighty themes such as racism and apartheid, as exemplified by his tireless efforts in printing and distributing 20,000 "Free South Africa" posters in Central Park in 1985.
One of his creations, titled "Free South Africa #2," forms part of a trilogy that vividly illustrates the complex relationship between black and white individuals, particularly the black majority and white minority, in apartheid-era South Africa, a time marked by repression and inequality. The symbolism within this artwork is profound: the black figure looms larger than the white one, symbolizing the stark contrast between the black majority and the few white individuals who held power during those tumultuous years. To underscore the white minority's oppressive grip on the black majority, Haring depicts the white figure tying a rope around the black man's neck. Yet, within this depiction of inequality, there is also a glimmer of hope, represented by the colossal black figure seemingly poised to obliterate this inequality, denoted by a prominent red X.
Haring's masterful placement of these figures within the composition showcases his signature sense of balance and spatial awareness. Despite the vast difference in the figures' sizes, the interplay between the occupied and vacant spaces in the image maintains equilibrium. The lines emanating from the figures convey the intensity of the black man's determination and anger, contrasting with the white figure's palpable apprehension and impending fate, poised to be crushed.
In the words of Julia Gruen, a close friend of Haring's and the executive director of the Keith Haring Foundation, this artwork resonates as a form of political activism—a powerful voice against oppression and a challenge to authority.
Haring's brilliance lay in his ability to communicate directly and immediately through his chosen symbols and iconography. He possessed the unique talent to distill a message to its essential elements, a skill he employed to address the pressing issue of racism. Activism was the core of his artistic practice. This aspect of his work is often overshadowed by the whimsical images that have saturated pop culture and are easily consumable by the masses. However, the joyful and lighthearted elements in his creations convey his vision and unwavering hope for a better world.