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Free
South Africa

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Critical Review

Looking to tackle South African Apartheid, Haring’s Free South Africa series shows how his signature artistic style is used to depict complex social issues. Printing and distributing around 20,000 Free South Africa posters in New York City in 1986, Haring worked tirelessly to mobilise support against apartheid.

In a journal entry from March 28, 1987, Haring wrote that “Control is evil. All stories of white men’s ‘expansion’ and ‘colonisation’ and ‘domination’ are filled with horrific details of the abuse of power and the misuse of people.”

Each print in the series features two stick figures in a struggle with one another, and as the series progresses, we see this struggle unfold. Using his bold, linear style, Haring represents the relationship between the black majority and white minority in South Africa during years of institutionalised racial segregation. The black figure on the left is rendered much larger than the white figure, symbolising the substantial disparity between the black majority and the few white people that had political and social power at the time. Haring clearly conveys this inequality of the white man’s power by showing the white figure with a rope around the black figure’s neck.

The presence of radiating lines and dashes work to bring movement to each image in the series, conveying the rage of the black figure and worry of the white figure who is about to be crushed. Haring playfully offers the viewer a glimpse of hope for the future by depicting the black figure crushing the white figure, marked by a red X, that represents this inequality.